Tuesday, 17 January 2017 08:08

Ban on plastic microbeads proposed

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The Government is proposing to ban personal care products containing plastic microbeads, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today.

“We are proposing a ban on the sale and manufacture of personal care products in New Zealand containing microbeads because of the long-term risk they pose to our aquatic and marine environments,” Dr Smith said.

“The problem with plastic microbeads is that they are too small to retrieve or recycle, they do not biodegrade, and that they are mistaken by marine life as food causing long-term damage to aquatic animals like fish and mussels. The use of plastic microbeads in personal care products like facial cleansers and toothpaste makes no sense when there are biodegradable alternatives like apricot kernels and ground nuts products that achieve the same results.”

There are about 100 varieties of personal care products in New Zealand containing plastic microbeads with the vast bulk imported. These include products such as deodorant, shampoo, hair conditioner, shower gel, lipstick, hair colouring, shaving cream, sunscreen, insect repellent, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturisers, hair spray, facial masks, baby care products, eyeshadow and mascara. Globally it is estimated that there is over 10,000 tonnes a year of plastic microbeads used. Some manufacturers have already agreed to phase out plastic microbead ingredients because of environmental concerns.

“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. The issue was discussed and agreed to as a priority at the OECD in September and the Trans-Tasman Environment Ministers meeting in November last year. The proposed New Zealand ban parallels similar initiatives being taken in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and Australia to ban or phase out the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products.

“New Zealand is a small consumer of plastic microbead products by international comparison but this initiative is important for maintaining New Zealand’s good name in marine stewardship. We have responsibility for one of the largest areas of ocean, we have one of the best fishery management systems, we are leading with conservation measures like the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area and this initiative on microbeads will enhance our clean, green reputation.”

The consultation document, Managing microbeads in personal care products, is open for consultation from today until the 28 February 2017. The proposed ban under the Waste Minimisation Act is to take effect on 1 July 2018.