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Britain wants a global ban on microbeads - so what's Ireland going to do about it?

There has been little or no mention of the effect microbeads have in Ireland – this call from British MPs might change that.

Image: Shutterstock/Pressmaster

A WORLDWIDE BAN OF microbeads in cosmetics should be enforced as soon as possible, a group of British MPs said yesterday.

Microbeads are tiny balls of plastic – smaller than 5mm but usually between 0.0004-1.24 mm wide – which are most common in soaps, shower gels and facial scrubs, used to exfoliate your skin. They are also found in some toothpastes and abrasive cleaners.

The chair of Britain’s Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, told the BBC:

“Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world’s oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain. A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.

Cosmetic companies’ voluntary approach to phasing out plastic microbeads simply won’t wash. We need a full legal ban.

Microbeads are non-biodegradable, which is what makes them so harmful to all forms of wildlife and ecosystems.

shutterstock_437379868 Source: Shutterstock/Alexa Beauty

So are there plans, policies or legislation about to be enacted by government and the scattered Environment portfolio to ban plastic microbeads?

It doesn’t look like it.

Although the Department for Housing, Planning and Local Government says that Ireland supports “the principle of banning of microbeads”, they say a timeframe is needed before a blanket ban is introduced so that the “industry has time to adapt”.

According to the Department:

It is important that any such proposal should be clearly limited to cosmetics and detergents at this time. There are legitimate medical and veterinary uses for micro-plastics in pharmaceuticals, for example, so we need to avoid any unintended consequences of such a ban.

Are there any alternatives to micro-plastics?

The Department says that it would “support the development of natural or biodegradable alternatives. A wide range of these are already being used by cosmetic firms”.

The Department did warn, however, that a “short enough timeframe” would need to be put in place to research safe alternatives to micro-plastic beads:

Naturally occurring alternatives could potentially impact upon the active ingredients of medicines, or hypoallergenic alternatives may not have been identified.

How we compare internationally

The US and Canada have already banned the use of microbeads last year.

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which ”prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads.”

The Canadian government officially added microbeads to Canada’s list of toxic substances in June of this year. The manufacture and import of cosmetics with microbeads will be phased out by the end of 2017 and by the end of 2018 there will be a total ban on selling those products.

Read: Professor calls Danny Healy-Rae’s view on climate change ‘nonsense’ and ‘dangerous’

Read: The Department of Environment is gone – so where does Irish Water go now?

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