Australia falling behind on microbeads

MikroplastasarpLast November, MRA argued the need for a national ban on microbeads. We said they were pernicious and a pollutant that should never have been permitted in the first place.

It is nice to know US President Obama reads The Tipping Point.

He has just announced a federal ban on microbeads across all American States, via the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015[2]. This Act will effectively ban cosmetics containing synthetic plastic microbeads beginning on January 1st, 2018.

The question for me is “Why is it taking so long to ban these products in Australia?” They are clearly causing pollution and if I went out and consciously and publicly littered plastic I would be fined or prosecuted by the EPA immediately. And rightly so.

I can promise you that none of the waste, composting or recycling clients I work with would be given a 2 year grace to work out alternatives to their pollution, were it to occur.

Some significant Australian and international brands have agreed to a voluntary cessation of microbead use in Australia from this year. The two largest retailers have also signed on to the voluntary agreement. They are to be congratulated.

But the problem I have is that there are still plenty of free-riders, importers and other retail brands who are not constrained from microbead use.

If our biggest retailers see the sense of getting rid of microbeads, why wait? Why rely on a voluntary, agreement which does not have uniform coverage and where non-participants get a competitive advantage? The pollution is occurring now and is ubiquitous.

Microbeads are known to accumulate in the environment and particularly in the marine food chain. Like all plastics they are persistent over hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

There are existing alternatives to microbeads including salt, vegetable products and coconuts. All of these are naturally occurring and don’t harm the environment.

In the absence of a strengthened and all encompassing agreement by all Australian manufacturers and all importers, I think there is ample justification for Federal Minister Hunt, in partnership with State EPAs, to enforce existing environmental pollution regulations.

This would immediately level the playing field for the responsible companies who have agreed to the voluntary measures.

As always I welcome your comments.

By Mike Ritchie, Managing Director MRA Consulting Group


[1] http://www.environmentalleader.com/2016/01/04/plastic-microbead-ban-signed-into-law-wins-industry-support/

[2] https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1321/all-info