In the latest draft, the NDRC has defined products with microbeads as "rinse-off cosmetics, toothpaste, and toothpowder with intentionally added solid plastic particles that are less than 5 mm millimetres in size and are used for scrubbing, exfoliating, cleansing, etc.”
It further specified that rinse-off cosmetics would include items such as shower gels, cleansers, hand sanitiser, soap, shaving foam, scrubs, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cleansing waters or oils.
“The daily chemical products containing microbeads have been listed by the state as the capacity that needs to be eliminated. A microbead ban can promote industrial upgrading and eliminate backward production capacity, which is also in line with the international environmental protection trend,’ said Winnie Xu of Chemlinked.
This follows the March publication of a consultation draft that clarified the definition, testing standards and methods of plastic microbeads in cosmetics.
Given its diminutive size, not all plastic microbeads can be filtered out and a large number eventually end up in rivers and oceans which will cause serious environmental problems.
In bid to protect the environment from potentially harmful microbeads, China agreed to reduce plastic microbead use in personal care products as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on climate change cooperation jointly signed with Canada in November 2018.
“Many countries in the world have formulated relevant laws and regulations on microbeads ban. As the world's second-largest cosmetics market, China will no doubt follow the international pace,” said Winnie Xu of Chemlinked.
The next year, the spotlight on microbeads further intensified when the NDRC and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) began plans to strengthen the treatment of plastic pollution.
The agencies sought to ban microbeads ban as one of the measures to control plastic pollution.
In January this year, NDRC and MEE published a document detailing a plan to ban the manufacture of daily chemical products containing plastic microbeads by the end of 2020 and ban the sale of such products by the end of 2022.
However, the finer points of the ban remained unclear till the March update.
Negligible impact on industry
While banning microbeads are an important step to protect the environment, Xu believes it will not impact the personal care industry.
She emphasised that as the legislation only targets rinse-off products, it would not impact items such as sunscreen or colour cosmetics which can still use it as bulking or film-forming agents to improve texture, enhance pigments or increase the adhesive strength of powders.
Additionally, she noted that most cosmetic companies will have already had time to replace plastic microbeads in its rinse-off products.
“The microbead ban is also not a big challenge given that cosmetic enterprises have already had a long time to prepare and have already been phasing out the use of microbeads and finding viable alternatives.”