Would you support a Europe-wide ban on microbeads? In January 2018, the United Kingdom banned the use of tiny plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, including exfoliating facial scrubs and toothpaste. However, many countries in Europe still allow the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads, which are small enough to travel through the sewer system and end up in oceans, contributing to the problem of plastic waste in the sea.

It seems like such a small thing, but it could help make a difference. There are currently an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s seas, and there are plenty of examples of ways in which we could change our habits and behaviour (for example, by using fewer single-use plastic products) in order to avoid harming the environment even further.

How can we get people (and companies) to change behaviours? Do we need to write to our politicians, and take to the streets (or social media) in protest? Is it enough if we just change our own behaviour? Is it enough for individuals to do their bit? Or do governments need to step in and force entire sectors of the economy to behave in a more sustainable fashion, investing in solutions and introducing new regulations, sanctions, and incentives?

What do our readers think? First up, we had a comment sent in from Rosy, who argues that it’s much easier to prevent an ocean being polluted and contaminated than it is to clean it up afterwards. She believes that cleaning the Pacific ocean of waste, for example, will take a long time. Is she right? And exactly how long are we talking about? Years? Decades?

To get a response, we spoke to Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer and climate scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. We asked him: What can the international community do to protect Earth’s oceans, and how long will it take to clean up the mess?

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Piedade, who wondered how Europe can protect the world’s oceans if the majority of plastic waste in the sea comes from countries in Asia, particularly China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

We put Piedade’s comment to Julia Schnetzer, Scientific Coordinator at the Ocean Plastics Lab, an interactive science exhibition about plastic waste in the seas that has been touring different countries to raise awareness about the issue. What would she say?

For another perspective, we also put Piedade’s comment to James Honeyborne, Executive Producer of the BBC documentary Blue Planet II, which helped open the eyes of many viewers to the scale of the problem facing our seas.

Finally, we had a comment sent in from Stephanie, who trusts that it is possible to change society and encourage people and businesses to alter their behaviour. Stephanie believes that a combination of social media, protesting, voting, and talking to politicians is enough to bring about change. Is she too optimistic?

To get a response, we put Stephanie’s comment to Melati Wijsen, founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags. When she was just 10 years old, Melati and her sister Isabel (who was 12) began campaigning to introduce a ban on plastic bags on their island of Bali, Indonesia. Through a combination of persistence, organisation, media awareness, and old-fashioned campaigning and activism, they succeeded. So, can Melati share the lessons she learned from her campaign?

Would you give up your favourite toothpaste to save the oceans? How long will it take to clean the oceans of all the pollution? How can Europe help keep the seas clean if the majority of plastic waste is coming from other parts of the world? And can social media, protesting, and dialogue help change society and protect the environment? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Rich Carey

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    I know how about we just STOP dumping garbage in the ocean and incinerate it…

    • avatar

      There is lots of problems with that.
      But also chemicals entering water systems. Some people drink it.
      Some chemicals people use on daily / weekly bases enter the body apparently.

  2. avatar

    Help mee de aarde schoon te houden. Gooi je rommel netjes in de container

  3. avatar

    As consumers it is up to us to drive the change in packaging

    • avatar

      Not fully true. Over the last 15 years, all drinks are sold in plastic bottles and no glass bottles are sold. I always preferred the taste from drinks in glass, but when the companies changed, nobody had a choice. Bring back glass bottles.

  4. avatar
    Stacia Blake

    Yes what toothpaste can you recomend ?
    Peace Justice Love stacia

    • avatar

      If oceans are lost, the entire Earth is lost.

    • avatar

      Mauribeth Duir that’s the long and the short of it.

  5. avatar

    Back to milk in bottles no plastic for juices no more waste dumping .

  6. avatar

    Of course i would. But its a totally wrong approach. Nobody has to give up the damn toothpaste! Stop plasticwrapping every fart!

  7. avatar

    It’s about much more than giving up toothpaste, the plastic producers need to come up with a replacement.
    The only real solution to plastic pollution is the total reduction of plastic production.

  8. avatar

    Questions related to a serious problem require a certain amount of seriousness. This question does not do it.

  9. avatar

    Plastic and Nuclear Weapons are part of the most Dangers elements for Humanity’s future

  10. avatar

    I don’t have a favourite toothpaste…

  11. avatar

    Chi butta la plastica in mare.??…….secondo me la mafia…. non solo la nostra , ma anche quella mondiale….puah !!

  12. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    The art of posing questions can be categorized from “trivial” naive to “material” politically important. How would banning “micro beads” in EU toothpastes (OMG) slot into such broad envelope?

    Surely, some first hand knowledge about the different levels in global development (Europe, Asia, Africa etc) coupled with bit of common sense would expose the basics, lead to the details, its origins and show a way forward.


    Generally, this human mess is beyond the control of anybody at the moment, the greens, the caring, including attempts by & to create an EU “toothpaste minister”!

    Globalization, consumerism, overpopulation, human development and the shipping to and dumping of EU waste in 3rd world countries & China- (who cannot handle or recycle such (toxic) waste responsibly- exposes the developed worlds (EU) opportunism, ignorance & hypocrisy!

    The one who wishes to produce & consumes- must recycle or dispose its waste at home- safely! The culture of (self) discipline, the willingness and capacities of governments around the world (waste management systems) differs but determines if we all drown in our filth sooner or later!


  13. avatar
    Marianne Hühn

    For the human future it is more than necessary to protect the oceans and to look die possibilities to collect the plastics.

  14. avatar

    Of course! As long as the ocean and earth are kept safe !☺️

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