Law to ban microbeads comes into effect


February 21st, 2020

A new act to ban the manufacture and sale of cosmetics and
personal care products containing microbeads entered into law yesterday.

The Microbeads Act 2019 prohibits
the manufacture or placing on the market of cosmetics, personal care products, household
and industrial cleaning products that contain plastic microbeads.

The Act also bans the import or export of such products and makes it an
offence to dispose of substances containing microbeads by pouring it down the
drain or into marine or freshwater environments.

Microbeads are tiny pieces of
plastic found by the hundreds of thousands in shower gels, face-scrubs and
toothpaste. They do not biodegrade and persist for a very long time in the
environment, with a half-life of hundreds of years.

There are up to 95,000 particles in one tube of the
, while microbeads in personal care products and
detergents contribute 2,000 to 3,000 tonnes of
microplastics per year

A 2018 study by NUI Galway
revealed just how pervasive the microplastics problem is in the marine
environment, finding that 73 per cent of deepwater fish they studied having microbeads or
microplastics in their bodies

The Environmental Protection Agency is now responsible for the implementation of the law and enforcement with the assistance of the Gardaí and Customs. A summary offence can lead to a fine and/or a prison sentence of up to six months while conviction on indictment could see a hefty fine of up to €3,000,000 and/ or a prison sentence of up to five years.

The legislation was introduced to the Dáil last June and was
passed by the both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the President in December
2019.  In the past number of years, however, the Fine Gael-led Government
voted down Bills introduced by both Labour and the Green Party that looked to go
further than just ban microbeads.

For example, a Bill from Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan in 2016 looked to monitor all microplastics in Irish water systems and as well as banning certain microbeads. The then-Minister for Housing Simon Coveney TD blocked the Bill, stating that it failed to include detergents and scouring agents, and did not include sufficient investigative or enforcement powers.

Microplastics in the Azores Photo: Raceforwater

Only small part of
the problem

Microbeads are just one form of
microplastics, small plastic fragments that originate from the likes of fibres
from clothing and fragments from the construction industry and plastic bottle
recycling facilities.

According to Dr Anne Marie Mahon, who has
carried out research on microplastic pollution in Ireland’s freshwater system,
a ban on cosmetic microbeads would only solve a fraction of the microplastics

Speaking before a Dail Committee
in 2017, the GMIT researcher warned that microbeads make up only two to three
per cent of microplastic found in the environment.

There are also concerns about microplastics
found in sewage sludge that is commonly applied as a fertiliser on agricultural
land. A 2018 assessment from the European Chemicals Agency indicated that concentrated
levels of microplastics are more likely to be found in sewage sludge than in
our oceans.

A recent joint report from
the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Resource Institute (WRI)
released this month found that legislation to tackle microplastics is lacking

While 127 countries have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags, the 2018 report states that only a small number of countries across the world – including Canada, France, and the UK – have imposed a ban on microbeads.

About the Author

Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London

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