New Zealand moves forward with ban on microbeads

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

New Zealand to ban microbeads

Related tags Personal care products Cosmetics New zealand

Nick Smith, New Zealand’s Minister for the Environment has announced the country’s plans to ban the sale of personal care products containing plastic microbeads.

The country’s government has released Managing microbeads in personal care products, a new consultation document that will close on 28th February 2017.

Following this examination period, the proposed ban is set to take effect on 1st July 2018 under the Waste Minimisation Act, as New Zealand supports international efforts and Australia’s similar move to remove plastic microbeads from cosmetics.

As sustainability remains a key concern for cosmetics, beauty and personal care customers, the proposed ban should help to strengthen consumer trust and purchasing habits.

Taking an environmental stance

Traditionally, plastic microbeads have been a constant presence in cosmetic and personal care products as the large majority of wastewater treatment technologies do not remove them.

Typically, microbeads are less than 5mm in size and made from plastic. There are estimated to be approximately 100 varieties of personal care products in New Zealand containing plastic microbeads — including shampoo, hair conditioner,  lipstick, hair colouring, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturisers and facial masks — most of which are imported.

“The use of plastic microbeads in products like facial cleansers and toothpaste made no sense when biodegradable alternatives like apricot kernels and ground nuts products could achieve the same results”​, Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, New Zealand, said in a statement.

"The problem with plastic microbeads is that they are too small to retrieve or recycle, they do not biodegrade, and that they are mistaken by marine life as food causing long-term damage to aquatic animals like fish and mussels,"​ added Smith.

Organisers praise decision

The frequent use of microbeads in a range of personal care and make up products has consistently been criticised by organisations throughout New Zealand and the wider region for their harmful effects on the environmental.

Private research establishment and analytical laboratory, Cawthron Institute, supports the government's proposal to place a ban on plastic microbeads.  

“Microplastic particles were detected at eight out of 10 locations on coastlines in the Canterbury region and similar scenarios are likely across New Zealand,”​ said Dr Louis Tremblay, Scientist, Cawthron Coastal and Freshwater.

“The risks are either physical (blockage, internal laceration, inflammation, and in the worst case mortality) or from unknown residuals or adsorbed hazardous chemicals that can pose toxicity,”​ advised Tremblay.

Plastic Diet, a youth-led initiative focused on reducing plastic waste and consumption in New Zealand, collaborated with Greenpeace New Zealand on a campaign calling for a total legislative ban on all plastic microbeads, including biodegradable plastic alternatives.

“It’s great to see that this proposal will put in place legislative restrictions to force manufacturers to turn away from plastic microbeads,”​ said Naomi Gaspar, President of Plastic Diet.

Their efforts do not end there, though, as the focus will now centre on ensuring that other plastics are not used to replace microbeads.

“We still have work to do now, to be sure that bioplastics will not be accepted as an alternative, and look into how the importation of microbeads will be remedied,”​ Gaspar emphasised.  

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