Ireland has officially banned the sale, manufacture, import and export of products containing microbeads. Microplastics are tiny non-biodegradable solid plastic particles. These particles enter the marine environment in a variety of forms including fibres shed from clothes, lost raw material pellets or microbeads used in cosmetics, cleansing products and detergents.
The Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019, which was signed into law on 6 February 2020 by Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy T.D., comes into effect today.
Plastic microbeads are mostly used in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs to exfoliate skin, although they also can be found in toothpaste and abrasive cleaners.
The Act Prohibits:
The Act prohibits the manufacture or placing on the market of cosmetics and personal care products that may be washed or rinsed off with water. Household and industrial cleaning products that contain plastic microbeads are also included.
Placing on the market is defined as to:
offer or expose for sale;
advertise or invite an offer to purchase;
distribute free of charge,
import or export;
or supply for any of those purposes (whether or not for profit).
The Act also makes it an offence to dispose of any substance containing microbeads by pouring it down the drain or into marine or freshwater environments.
A person convicted of an offence under the Act could receive a fine and/or a prison sentence of up to six months. Conviction on indictment may mean a fine of up to €3,000,000 and/ or a prison sentence of up to five years.
The Environmental Protection Agency is assigned as the responsible for implementation with support from Customs Officials and the Gardaí.
Ireland will continue to work with the Commission and other EU Member States to develop further robust regulatory measures to address microplastic pollution.
In October the EU gave Ireland the greenlight to outlaw plastic microbeads but has yet to introduce legislation for an EU-wide ban. The UK banned the manufacture and sale of microbeads back in 2018, following the US’s ban back in 2015.
Microbeads represent only a fraction of the microplastics in our oceans
While plastic microbeads represent only a fraction of the microplastics in our oceans, it has still been estimated that many billions are being washed into the world’s rivers, lakes and seas each year. Once in our seas and rivers they can last for centuries without breaking down. Due to their shape and size, they can be confused for food by fish and other aquatic creatures and they cannot be removed once they are in the marine environment.
Tiny plastic particles are sold in thousands of personal care products globally. With wastewater treatment plants not designed to filter them out they can flow down the drain, into the sea and into the marine food chain. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove. Each year, an estimated 8 million metric tonnes of plastics enter the ocean, and it’s estimated that currently, 150 million metric tonnes circulate in our marine environments.