Microbeads are intentionally added solid plastic particles measuring five millimetres or less in any dimension. Microbeads are typically used in exfoliating cosmetic products such as face scrubs, heavy duty industrial hand soaps and other products such as toothpastes.
Cosmetic products to be microbead-free by July 2018
Plastics offer a wide variety of uses for manufacturers and consumers. The high versatility of plastic has seen it become a ubiquitous part of 21st century life, so much so that “no-one in their daily life within a period of ten minutes isn’t touching something made of plastic,” according to Emeritus Professor Andrew Holmes from the University of Melbourne.
However, the increased use of plastics has also led to an increase in plastic pollution in the marine environment. A range of plastic sources can be identified as contributing to this problem, including plastic packaging, plastic bags, fishing lines and ‘microplastics’.
Microplastics are small plastic particles with an upper size limit of five millimetres in diameter. A sub-set of microplastics includes microbeads. Microbeads are intentionally added solid plastic particles measuring five millimetres or less in any dimension. Microbeads are typically used in exfoliating cosmetic products such as face scrubs, heavy duty industrial hand soaps and other products such as toothpastes.
The call for action on a plastic microbead ban first came after a report from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, “Sydney Harbour: A systematic review of science,” which was released in 2014 outlining the potentially damaging effects solid plastic microbeads can have on the marine environment. As a result, after two years of consultation and deliberation, Australia’s environment ministers agreed to “…secure a voluntary agreement from industry to phase out microbeads in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products”. The ministers also agreed to a “…phase out period of two years following commencement of the agreement, but no later than 1 July 2018”.
Accord, as the peak industry association for cosmetic, hygiene and specialty products, has been involved throughout the process to help ensure the voluntary phase out is an effective and workable solution for industry. To facilitate the requirements of the agreement, Accord launched BeadRecede. The BeadRecede initiative aims to foster industry awareness about the phase out and forms a base for coordination of participation across the industry. This initiative is open to all companies engaged in the manufacture and supply of cosmetics, personal care and certain cleaning products.
As a part of BeadRecede, Accord has been working to facilitate widespread participation in the phase out. Accord conducted broad outreach, contacting 115 individual companies identified as potentially relevant to the microbead issue; 40% of these were found to be relevant and around 50% of these relevant companies had already acted to remove solid plastic microbeads from their products.
During the outreach, Accord uncovered microbead usage in some industrial heavy-duty hand wash products. Interestingly, Australia’s microbead phase out is seemingly the only international approach to address microbead usage in this market.
Pleasingly, all relevant companies have expressed a commitment to meeting the phase out deadline of 1 July 2018.
Accord submitted an initial progress report to the 28 July 2017 Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM). The MEM expressed satisfaction with the phase out’s progress so far. “Ministers welcomed industry progress to deliver a voluntary phase out of microbeads by mid-2018”.
Most recently, data received by Accord indicates that there has been an 88% reduction in the number of cosmetic and personal care products containing solid plastic microbeads from the fourth quarter 2014 to September 2017. Overall, Accord can report that the total number of products containing solid plastic microbeads has dropped by 84% during this period, with progress on track for 100% phase out by 1 July 2018.
Microplastic pollution is a global problem that requires attention on a global scale, however plastic microbeads are just one part of the problem. Some of the latest scientific research reports based on data from Australian waterways show microbeads to be less significant environmentally than some other microplastics, such as synthetic microfibres and tyre wear particles. Accord is encouraging the government to shift policy attention to these other microplastic sources.
Accord Australasia is the peak body representing companies operating in the cosmetic, fragrance, personal care and toiletries sector – from multinationals to small Australian-owned businesses, importers to local manufacturers. www.accord.asn.au