Ireland Bans Microbeads

By Maggie Holland, Assistant Editor
August / September 2019

With a bill soon to be introduced by the Dáil, Ireland is set to be the first country in the European Union to ban the use of plastic microbeads in household cleaners and toiletries.

Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic, less than a millimeter in diameter, that are put into some personal care products such as soaps, facial cleansers, and toothpastes, to add texture and aid in exfoliation. A single bottle of facial scrub can contain as many as 330,000 microbeads.

Once washed down the drain, microbeads pose a threat to water, soil, and animals. They are not biodegradable, and because of their small size, they can pass right through the sewage filters. A study from the State University of New York found anywhere from 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads per square mile on the surface of the Great Lakes, the worst being Lake Erie.

A variety of wildlife mistake the microbeads for food, and the ingestion of the plastic is toxic for these animals as well as other species higher up in the food chain.

The Microbead Prohibition Bill restricts the production and use of “rise down the drain” products that are part plastic. It excludes products that are meant to be “worn on.” Ireland first began discussing a ban in 2016.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy emphasized the importance of the bill, arguing that it should be an offense to sell, manufacture, import, or export products containing the plastic beads. The bill is currently in the committee stage, where amendments will be debated. ♦

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