New Zealand to ban microbeads in mid-2018

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New Zealand Parliament Smith

New Zealand will ban personal care products containing plastic microbeads starting July 1, 2018.

NZ Environment Minister Nick Smith said microbeads, usually manufactured from polyethylene or polypropylene, pose a long-term risk to aquatic and marine environments.

“Microbeads are too small to retrieve or recycle, do not biodegrade, and are mistaken by marine life as food, causing long-term damage to aquatic animals like fish and mussels. Use of microbeads in personal care products makes no sense when there are biodegradable alternatives, like apricot kernels and ground nuts, that achieve the same results,” Smith said.

Most personal care products in New Zealand containing microbeads are imported. Smith said they include deodorants, shampoos, hair conditioners, shower gels, lipstick, hair coloring, shaving creams, sunscreen, insect repellents, anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizers, hair spray, facial masks, baby care products, eye shadow and mascara.

Smith said more than 10,000 metric tons of microbeads are used annually around the world and some manufacturers have already agreed to phase them out.

“This initiative is part of a global push to reduce the amount of plastic culminating in the oceans, with estimates indicating there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050,” he said.

Environmental groups Greenpeace New Zealand and Plastic Diet, a group dedicated to eliminating single-use plastic products, have backed Smith’s ban. Greenpeace said the law must cover all microplastics.

“Marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic from a face wash and plastic from a washing detergent, so the ban must cover all plastics in all household and industrial products that can go down our drains. We’ve seen other countries, like the U.S., use narrow definitions that allow heaps of nasty products to stay on the shelves. We can’t let that happen in NZ.”

Greenpeace criticized Australia’s option to first see if manufacturers and retailers voluntarily self-regulate. “This isn’t effective,” the organization said.

Smith said NZ is a small consumer of microbead products by international comparison but the ban is “important for maintaining NZ’s good name in marine stewardship.”

Companies that continue to sell products containing microbeads after the ban is imposed face maximum fines of NZ$100,000 (US$73,200).