The approach to microbeads is not consistent around the world. While the US Federal authority began restrictions on their use in July 20171, individual states have also introduced legislation. For example, Illinois, the first state to act, has introduced a ban on the sale and manufacture of products containing microbeads, which will be phased in from 2018. California, however, has announced a total ban on the sale and promotion of personal care products containing microbeads, which will come into effect on January 1, 20202.
In Europe, the approach is even more varied. In 2015, a group of countries including Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden issued a joint statement calling on the European Union (EU) to introduce a ban3, a call that was echoed by the Danish Minister of Environment and Food in May 20164. Since then, Sweden has introduced its own ban on microbeads in rinse-off products, which will begin on January 1, 20185. Similarly, in July 2017, the United Kingdom informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it wished to prohibit the sale and manufacture of products contain microbeads. This ban is expected to be introduced in two stages, starting on January 1, 20186.
Elsewhere, Canada has introduced a ban on microbeads in toiletries that comes into effect in 20187 and New Zealand has notified the WTO of prohibitions that could come into effect in 20188. Australia has taken a different approach and in December 2015 announced the voluntary removal of microbeads from personal care products9 but since then, Ministers have stated that, should the voluntary phase out not work, they will introduce a legal ban in 201710. Taiwan’s ban on the manufacture and import of products contain microbeads comes into effect on January 1, 2018, with the ban on their sale becoming effective on July 1, 201811. Taiwan is currently the only country where a draft method for qualitative screening of microbeads has also been published.
Why are Microbeads a Problem?
In 2015, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published “Plastic in Cosmetics: Are we polluting the environment through our personal care?” This report signaled concerns relating to the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products.
Firstly, due to their size, microbeads they are not recycled and are simply poured down the drain. They are normally made from nondegradable polymers and, because it takes hundreds of years for them to degrade via oxidative or photodegradation routes, will remain in our environments for a very long time.
Secondly, the report notes the ‘ubiquity’ of microbeads being found in our marine environments. Their size means that, once they have entered the ocean, they are quickly distributed around the globe. Marine creatures ingest them, thinking they are food, and this creates problems of toxicity in our food chains. As the toxins progress along the food chain they become more concentrated, leading to potential threats to human health.
What are Microbeads?
Microbeads are plastic spheres used in personal care products for several purposes, including the delivery of active ingredients, film formation, exfoliation and viscosity regulation. They range in size and can be as small as 1 µm. Most of the legislation being introduced around the world covers a size up to and including 5mm.
According to a Norwegian Environment Agency report from 2014, the most common polymers used for the manufacturer of microbeads are polyethylene, poly(methylmethacrylate), polytetrafluoroethylene, polypropylene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate12.
Manufacturers of cosmetic and personal care products need to be aware of the different regulations that are being introduced around the world (see Table 1). From 2018, an increasing number of territories will have specific legislation in place restricting the use of microbeads and it must be assumed this trend will continue as further research into the long-term effects of microbeads in the environment are published.
Manufacturers must also look for viable alternatives to microplastic beads. The UNEP report states that replacing nondegradable polymers with biodegradable plastics such as Polylactic acid (PLA) is not advisable as PLAs only degrade when subjected to high temperatures in industrial settings.
Table 1. Global Overview of Current Global Microbead Legislation
|United States||Federal Law – H.R.1321 – Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 signed on December 28, 2015
|Canada||Regulation – SOR/2017-111 Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations
Natural health products and/or non-prescription drugs:
|New Zealand||WTO notified of draft regulation|
|ASEAN||ASEAN Cosmetic Association recommends removal|
|Taiwan||WTO notified of draft regulation, including draft method|
|Europe||Cosmetics Europe recommends removal
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Sources1 New Federal Ban on Microbeads Signed
2 Bill Text - AB-888 Waste management: plastic microbeads.
3 Council of the European Union
4 Esben Lunde Larsen opfordrer EU til forbud mod mikroplast i kosmetiske produkter
5 Förslag till nationellt förbud mot mikrokorn av plast i kosmetiska produkter
6 The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations 2017
7 Canada Bans Microbeads in Toiletries
8 Managing microbeads in personal care products: Consultation document
9 Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Government
10 Federal Government strengthens efforts to tackle plastic waste
11 Environmental Protection Administration, Taiwan
12 Microbeads – A Science Summary