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Microbeads Could Be Ousted in Australia

February 11, 2016 | Contact Author | By: Nicole Urbanowicz
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Keywords: cosmetics regulation | cosmetics formulation | microbeads | Australia | Microbead Free Waters Act

Abstract: Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles are removing all personal care and beauty products containing these tiny microparticles off the shelves.

Microbeads soon could be officially ousted in Australia.

Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles, according to Australian media reports, are removing all personal care and beauty products containing these tiny microparticles off the shelves by 2017. This follows an earlier announcement that Australia has for the first time set a National Clean Air Agreement among the states and territories for "small particulate matter."

Australia Agrees: Let's 'Phase Out' Microbeads

"The national government, the states and territories have agreed on a voluntary phase-out of microbeads, or micro-plastics," Greg Hunt, a Federal Member for Flinders and Minister for the Environment said in a recent speech. "These are little pollutants that damage our waterways. They have emerged as a problem over recent years ..." Hunt said. 

Plastic microbeads, which are defined as plastic pieces measuring less than 5 millimeters, are used in some cosmetic products including scrubs, exfoliators, cleansers and soaps. Proponents of the microbeads ban have argued that fish often mistake non-biodegradible plastic microbeads for food and eat them, resulting in toxins further up the food chain. Research at Plymouth University, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, has shown that up to tens of thousands of microbeads, each a fraction of a millimeter in diameter, could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs.

"And Australia will be one of the world’s leaders in phasing out microbeads, which in turn helps protect our food chain, protect our waterways, and protect our marine environment," Hunt added. 

Seeking Eco-alternatives

Currently, a number of cosmetic and personal care companies, including multinational giants, have already eliminated or have announced plans to eliminate microbeads from their products such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive and L'Oréal. To that end, cosmetics and personal care formulators are looking towards sustainability and eco-friendly exfoliant ingredients like seeds and crushed shells, as more jurisdictions pass legislation banning microbeads. And suppliers are increasingly responding by launching eco-products that address these microbead concerns

On a global scale, the Netherlands was one of the first EU countries to draw attention to the issue and it has already banned the use of microbeads across the country. In December, the U.S. signed into law a bill banning microbeads nationwide beginning on January 1, 2018 under the U.S. Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. It is now up to the retailers and distributors to comply with removing items containing microbeads off the shelves in the U.S. and based on recent developments, Australia could be next.