SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA — An Australian environment minister has declared war on polyethylene microbeads.
New South Wales (NSW) environment minister Rob Stokes said microbeads are ingested by sea life and seabirds. He wants a national ban on manufacturing and selling the tiny beads used in many personal care products.
Stokes will convene an industry working group to discuss a voluntary phase out by 2016. The group will be convened by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), a Sydney-based NSW government authority charged with protecting the environment in that state.
The beads, which measure less than five millimeters in diameter, are found in shampoos, exfoliants and shower gels.
“When microplastics enter the marine environment, due to their small size and ability to float, they are unlikely to ever fully degrade,” Stokes said. “There is also a health implication for humans who eat seafood contaminated by microplastics.”
Angela Hawdon, program director of the Sydney-based Australian arm of Fauna and Flora International (FFIA), said the conservation group will work with the EPA working group and “liaise with manufacturers to encourage them to find alternatives to microplastics.”
FFIA has identified 60 Australian brands that use the beads in facial exfoliants, and 44 that do not.
Sydney-based Total Environment Centre executive director Jeff Angel also welcomed Stokes's plan. “We call on industry to fully cooperate. Many companies are already moving on this.”
Craig Brock, policy and public affairs director for the Australasian hygiene and cosmetic products industry association, Sydney-based Accord Australasia Ltd., said the industry put the “highest value on the environmental safety of its products.” He said Accord will work with the NSW Government, which could lead to an agreement to phase out microplastic ingredients in personal care products, but he added: “It is equally important all possible sources of microplastic pollution be taken into account and addressed.”
A spokeswoman for the Melbourne-based Plastics and Chemicals Industries Association would not comment on the proposed ban.