Why is it important to stop microbeads polluting the environment?
Microbeads are small, solid, manufactured plastic particles that are less than 5mm in diameter and do not degrade or dissolve in water. They may be added to a range of products, including rinse-off cosmetic, personal care and cleaning products. Microbeads are a relatively cheap ingredient and are used in these products for a variety of purposes. This includes as an abrasive or exfoliant, a bulking agent, to prolong shelf-life, or for the controlled release of active ingredients.
Microbeads are not captured by most wastewater treatment systems. If washed down the drain after use, they can end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. These tiny plastics persist in the environment and have a damaging effect on marine life, the environment and human health. This is due to their composition, ability to adsorb toxins and potential to transfer up the marine food chain. The best way to reduce the impact of microbeads is to prevent them from entering the environment in the first place.
What is Australia doing about microbeads?
At the 2016 Meeting of Environment Ministers, ministers agreed to support a voluntary industry phase-out of plastic microbeads found in rinse-off personal care, cosmetic, and cleaning products. Consistent with the intention of protecting the marine environment, the phase-out targets rinse-off products which are reasonably capable of entering the marine environment through normal use.
The voluntary phase-out has been led by Accord Australasia (Accord) through their BeadRecede campaign, and overseen by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.
The 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan includes a commitment from the business sector and governments to phase-out 100 per cent of microbeads from the targeted rinse-off products. Plastic microbeads in these products can be substituted with natural abrasive ingredients, such as pumice, salt, and crushed seed kernels.
In late 2020, the Department commissioned an independent assessment of rinse-off personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products sold in Australian retail outlets, and online. The research included 248 in-store surveys, and 29 surveys of online stores and marketplaces.
- An assessment of the presence of microbeads in rinse-off personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products currently available within the Australian retail market (2020)
The assessment found that:
- of the approximately 8100 unique products inspected, 99.3 per cent were microbead-free.
- for the 0.7 per cent of products containing microbeads, facial scrubs, facial cleansers, and face masks were the most common product types using microbeads as an ingredient.
- there were no microbeads present in cleaning products or in oral hygiene products surveyed, such as mouthwash and toothpaste.
The 2020 independent assessment indicates that the phase-out of microbeads in rinse-off personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products sold in Australia has been successful. For the 0.7 per cent of products still containing microbeads, Accord has advised that a number of these products are discontinued product lines or unauthorised parallel imports.
Accord will continue to monitor the market to ensure products remain microbead free through their existing monitoring and assurance program.
To support the ongoing success of the voluntary phase-out, and to ensure microbeads do not re-enter the market through new products, the Commonwealth issued Accord with a monitoring and assurance protocol in December 2018. The protocol outlines expectations for the next stages of the BeadRecede campaign. Accord has agreed to maintain a range of actions to support the success of the phase-out, as outlined in this protocol, until June 2022.
- Voluntary industry phase-out of solid plastic microbeads from ‘rinse-off’ personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products - Monitoring and Assurance protocol (PDF - 401.15 KB)
- Voluntary industry phase-out of solid plastic microbeads from ‘rinse-off’ personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products - Monitoring and Assurance protocol (DOCX - 24.84 KB)
How do I know if microbeads are in my products?
Microbeads can be found in certain household products, including sunscreen, facial cleansers, body wash, and cosmetics such as foundation and blush. If you are concerned about microbeads in your products, look for the following ingredients.
|Common microbead ingredients|
|Polyethylene (PE)||Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)||Nylon (PA)|
|Polypropylene (PP)||Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)|
- BeadRecede – the initiative launched by Accord Australasia, the peak industry association for cosmetics, hygiene and specialty products
- New South Wales EPA – more information and research about microbeads
- National Plastics Plan
Do you want to know more about microbeads in a product? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.