Microbeads lead to Macroproblems | Fieldfisher
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Microbeads lead to Macroproblems



On 26 December 2019, the Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019 was signed into law, prohibiting the manufacture, import, export and sale of water soluble cosmetic and cleaning products containing microbeads in excess of permitted concentrations. In addition, the Act prohibits the disposal of substances containing Microbeads down drains and directly into freshwater or marine environments.

The Act was commenced in full yesterday, 20 February 2020, and is now enforceable.   

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are small non-biodegradable plastic particles ranging in size from 1mm to 5mm in diameter. They are found in products such as toothpaste, body wash, face scrubs and cleaning detergents. Since their introduction in 1972, Microbeads have made their way into a large range of widely used consumer products. As their popularity has grown, so too has scientific concern in relation to their impacts. 

Scientific Concerns

Microbeads have become infamous for their effects on marine and freshwater environments. A report published by the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology highlights the potential risks that Microbeads present to such environments, having detected the presence of Microbeads in fish and other marine species in the course of its research.

The report also warns of the potential risk to human health, through the consumption of species which have been exposed to Microbeads, and through bathing and other recreational activities.

Exempted Products 

There are certain products and classes of product that the Act does not apply to. Although the exempted products contain Microbeads, the benefits from the products are considered so significant that continued use of the products is justified. The exempted products include the following:

1.    Medicinal products,
2.    Sunscreen;
3.    Products used for the purposes of education or research; and 
4.    Products in transit through the State. 

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has the power to exempt further products. This power can only be exercised in the following circumstances:

1.    The product sought to be exempted is for a specified industrial cleaning process;
2.    The product is essential to that process; and 
3.    There is no effective cleaning method that could be employed as an alternative. 

The Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") has been designated the responsible authority in the State for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the Act. Some of the powers assigned are far reaching and include EPA Authorised Persons entering premises, inspecting and examining books, products and labels, taking possession of documentation and samples and requiring any person at the premises (including the owner, person in charge or employee) to answer questions.

Any person found to have breached the provisions of the Act is liable to a Class A fine and/or a prison sentence of up to six months on summary conviction, or a fine of up to €3,000,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to five years on indictment.

Minister Eoghan Murphy has welcomed this enactment, stating “I am increasingly concerned about the potential risk posed to our aquatic ecosystems by microplastic litter, including plastic microbeads. While this is an important step, it is only one of many measures we will have to introduce over the coming years to reduce the level of litter and plastic pollution entering our seas and oceans." 

Written by Zoe Richardson & Grainne O'Callaghan

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