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Microbeads Banned

Hon David Parker
Minister for the Environment
Hon Eugenie Sage
Associate Minister for the Environment

Microbeads Banned

Minister for the Environment David Parker and Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage, have today welcomed Cabinet approval of the regulations banning microbeads.

“Plastic microbeads are found in personal care products such as facial cleansers, bath scrubs and toothpaste,” says Mr Parker.

“They get washed down the drain but are too small to be fully captured by our waste water treatment systems. These minute plastic particles enter the marine environment where they accumulate, do not biodegrade, and are mistaken for food. This causes long-term damage to New Zealand’s marine life.”

“This ban was initiated by the previous Government and I’d like to acknowledge the work of Hon Nick Smith. We supported the regulations while in opposition and we’re happy to be bringing these regulations into force,” says Mr Parker.

“This ban contributes to global efforts to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in our oceans,” says Ms Sage

The changes align with similar initiatives in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and Australia.

Public consultation on the proposed Regulations took place in January 2017 and drew wide public support. Many submitters urged the Government to broaden the scope of the proposed ban to include other products containing microbeads.

In response the Regulation has been widened to include all “wash-off” microbead-containing products for exfoliating, cleansing or abrasive cleaning purposes. This includes household, car or other cleaning products as well as personal care products.

“The market for these additional products is minimal, but we want to prevent a future market developing,” says Ms Sage.

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Questions and Answers

What are microbeads?
Microbeads are plastic beads (generally polyethylene) less than 5mm in size, manufactured for specific purposes, mainly for use in personal care products (such as bath products, facial scrubs and cleansers, and toothpastes). They are added to products to give texture, act as an abrasive or provide visual interest, and are designed to be rinsed off and washed straight down the drain.

Why are microbeads a problem?
When used in personal care products, microbeads can enter the environment, mainly through effluent discharged from wastewater treatment plants. Although the plants capture the vast majority of beads, a significant number can still accumulate in the environment.

Like other microplastics, microbeads are persistent, non-biodegradable and accumulate over time in the natural environment. Microbeads are pervasive and very difficult to remove once in the marine or freshwater environment.

A recent study found that some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. They have also been found in shellfish consumed by humans, raising questions about potential impacts on human health.

What products will be covered by the Regulations?
The Regulations prohibit the sale and manufacture of wash-off products that contain plastic microbeads for the purposes of exfoliation, cleaning, abrasive cleaning or visual appearance of the product. The intent is to capture two types of microbead-containing products:
• Wash-off cosmetics such as facial and body exfoliants, toothpastes and heavy-duty hand cleansers
• Abrasive cleaning products, including household, car or industrial cleaning products.

Why has the scope been widened to include cleaning products?
A total of 16,223 submissions were received and all supported the proposed ban. Many submitters asked that the scope of the ban be widened to include other products containing plastic microbeads. There is a very limited market for microbead-containing cleaning products. Nevertheless, including these in the ban ensures that all present and future such products are captured.

What are some of the alternative products that people can look for?
Suitable natural alternatives to microbeads already being used, such as ground nut shells, apricot kernels and pumice. The key is to know what you are looking for when choosing your products. For the most part polyethylene and polypropylene are the main plastics used as microbeads.

When and where can I see the Regulations?
The Regulations will be notified in the NZ Gazette later this week (

Why does the ban take six months to come into force?
The six months transition time is to allow time for industry to adapt their products and methods of production to comply with the new regulation. It is the recommended minimum timeframe under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

What are other countries doing to ban microbeads?

Several countries have banned microbeads or are in the process:

• In Australia, the industry representative body ACCORD has established an initiative (“Beadrecede”) to survey and support industry to phase out microbeads by 1 July 2018, as agreed with the Government. According to officials in Australia, good progress is being made towards the phase-out target date. This will have a flow-on effect in the longer term with less products entering New Zealand via Australia.
• The USA Microbead-free Waters Act 2015 was effective on 1 July 2017 for manufacturing and will be effective on 1 July 2018 for interstate commerce.
• Canada has included microbeads in personal care products on the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s list of toxic substances and has introduced regulations to prohibit the manufacture, import, and sale of personal care products containing microbeads.
• The government of the United Kingdom has consulted on a proposal to ban microbeads in personal care products. In England, the proposal is to ban manufacture effective from 1 January 2018, and a ban on sale effective from 30 June 2018.
• Italy has approved a bill in parliament to ban the manufacture and sale of microbeads from 1 January 2019.
• France has announced a ban on rinse-off cosmetic products for exfoliation and cleaning that contain solid plastic particles from January 2018.

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