If cosmetics companies won't self-regulate, then it's up to countries to take a strong stance against these nasty miniature pollutants.
New Zealand is the latest country to take action against insidious plastic microbeads. Earlier this year, environment minister Nick Smith announced that microbeads would no longer be allowed in any cosmetics or personal care items, starting July 1, 2018, and that any company caught sneaking them into products would be fined NZ $100,000 (US $73,000).
Microbeads are tiny plastic beads, usually manufactured from polypropylene or polyethylene, that are added to countless products as an exfoliant. They’re used in a wide range of skin care products, such as facial scrubs, masks, cleansers, soaps, and toothpastes. Because they are so tiny, microbeads cannot be properly filtered out by wastewater treatment facilities and they end up in waterways. They never biodegrade and they’re being found in increasingly numbers of marine animals.
At a press conference, Smith expressed displeasure at companies’ slow movement toward banning microbeads:
“Some companies have already announced that their intention is to phase them out. I was surprised today, despite those commitments, seeing a very wide range of dozens and dozens of products, everything from shampoos to face cleaners to shaving creams to sunscreen and toothpaste containing these microbeads.”
New Zealand is joining Canada, the United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom in taking a stance against microbeads. Unfortunately, Australia is waiting to see if the industry self-regulates before imposing an official ban, a move that Greenpeace says is ineffective.
Not everyone is entirely pleased with Smith’s move. Greenpeace wants to make sure that the ban will go beyond cosmetics and personal care products to include household cleaners that contain microbeads:
“We’ve seen other countries, like the United States, use narrow definitions that allow heaps of nasty products to stay on the shelves. We can’t let that happen in New Zealand.”
Smith is also being criticized for refusing to take action on a plastic bag ban. He said there’s not enough evidence “that a substantive portion of the plastic bags that we use in shopping and other uses end up in the marine environment.” It’s a puzzling statement, because all one must do is visit any shoreline to find discarded shopping bags a-plenty. Perhaps Smith should watch A Plastic Tide to educate himself further about the evils of disposable plastic bags. Instead, he is choosing to focus on an overhaul of New Zealand’s recycling system.
Still, the microbead ban is something to celebrate, and will hopefully lead Smith and others in government to contemplate the hidden costs of our continued use of disposable plastics.