1. Understand the national context for microbead use
Gathering information on the scale of the problem
It is important to understand the relative scale of microplastic ingredient use in the country, and therefore which specific industries, federations and corporations will be affected by any voluntary or regulatory measures.
In some cases data may have already been collected, for example through the international Beat the Microbead campaign or by local researchers. If not, there are quick ways to gather these data. For example, many brands will be multinational and may have already made global or regional commitments with regard to removing microplastic ingredients. This information is generally publicly available on their global websites (example available here) and in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. Smaller and national companies may be less likely to have such information readily available.
If there is not existing data on microplastic ingredient use, options include commissioning a quick in-shop or online status survey, or asking industry about microplastic ingredient use as part of a consultation survey on the issue. This information also provides an important baseline for future monitoring of implementation.
What microplastic ingredients to look for?
Existing evidence has demonstrated that there are six main types of microplastic that may be found in ingredient lists: polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon (N).
Additional ingredients of concern can be found in Appendix 4 of Fauna & Flora International’s Microbeads Guidance Document. In addition, we are now seeing use of so-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics such as polylactic acid (PLA). This is particularly concerning because scientific evidence suggests that biodegradable plastics behave in the same way as conventional plastics in the ocean. They do not fully degrade in the cold and dark conditions of the ocean and therefore any biodegradable plastics should be subject to the same action as other types of plastic.
What products might contain microplastic ingredients?
Microplastic ingredients are used in many cosmetics and personal care products, including but not limited to: bath products (such as children’s bubble bath), toothpastes, soaps, face scrubs, face masks, body exfoliators (including hand, foot and lip scrubs), shaving products, deodorants, fake tan, makeup (e.g. eyeshadow, foundation, lipstick, mascara), household cleaning products (e.g. abrasive floor cleaner), and industrial hand cleaners. They are also found in products from other industry sectors (e.g. non-slip paints).
Are there alternatives to microplastic ingredients?
There are many microplastic ingredient-free product options using non-plastic (natural) alternatives, such as nut shells or sea salt; examples are available in our Good Scrub Guide. Companies around the world have also readily reformulated their products to remove microplastic ingredients when bans have been announced. Collecting information on microplastic ingredient-free brands during any scoping also provides an important baseline and examples of ways in which to avoid plastic ingredient use.
No natural alternatives pose such a serious threat to the ocean compared to the risk of microplastics persisting in the ocean for hundreds of years and introducing hazardous substances into food chains.
What has already been done by industry?
In addition to identifying voluntary commitments already made by companies, or relevant recommendations by industry trade associations to remove microplastic ingredients, it is also important to assess the effectiveness of corporate microplastic ingredient policies.
For example, evaluations of voluntary actions on microplastic ingredients have already been conducted by NGOs in the UK and South Korea. This has revealed that some voluntary commitments may have potential loopholes, in which case robust regulation is more effective.
2. Decision making
What types of measures to consider?
To date, the majority of countries that have introduced measures to address plastic pollution from microbead use have chosen to impose national legislative bans. Examples include the US, Canada, the UK, South Korea, and New Zealand. At the same time, some other countries, such as Australia, have adopted a different approach – before introducing a legal ban, the Australian Government gave industry a two-year deadline to demonstrate that voluntary action is fully addressing the issue or risk facing legislative regulation at the end of the two-year period.
While cosmetic brands across the world have taken the initiative and started replacing microplastic ingredients with natural alternatives as early as 2015, it is important that policymakers review the scope and progress of the voluntary microplastics phase out process at a national level before deciding whether to rely on voluntary regulation measures or introduce a ban. The assessment of voluntary commitments described in the scoping stage above would provide the necessary evidence to enable this decision to be made.
What do other stakeholders think about the proposed measures?
Understanding any concerns or recommendations from key stakeholders (e.g. industry, NGOs, scientists, civil society) regarding measures to end microplastic ingredient use during the policy development process could help ensure effectiveness of regulatory action after enforcement. In some countries, well-established procedures for consulting stakeholders on policy proposals may already be incorporated in the policy development process.
The following examples of opportunities for stakeholder feedback on the development of the UK microbeads ban could provide useful suggestions for policymakers in other countries:
- Launching an open public consultation on the proposed policy – example from the UK microbeads ban development process is available here;
- Conducting additional targeted stakeholder engagement if needed;
- Considering the need to notify the European Union (if applicable) or the World Trade Organisation if your proposed policy is a legislative ban – example from the UK microbeads ban development process is available here;
- Publishing the final definitions, incorporating any revisions following stakeholder responses to the initial proposals, and allowing for any final comments or objections to be made before introducing the policy – example from the UK microbeads ban development process is available here.
Incorporating microbeads bans into existing legislation
It is important to consider where a microbeads ban best fits into the country’s existing environmental legislation. Firstly, it is helpful for efficient implementation of the ban for it to be placed within existing legislation where it logically fits and is enforced by a body that has relevant expertise.
Secondly, existing primary legislation may already give government the power to introduce a microbeads ban by subordinate or secondary legislation. If this is possible, it might save both time and money in implementing the ban.
If a new piece of stand-alone legislation is required, this could provide more control over designing a bespoke scope and implementation system for the ban, but it may demand a more time-consuming and resource-intensive process.
In the majority of countries where microbead bans have been introduced, these bans have been incorporated into existing legislation, either by amendment or subordinate legislation for example: