Australia’s voluntary industry phase out of plastic microbeads in ‘rinse-off’ cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products
In December 2015, Australia’s environment ministers* identified solid plastic microbeads in cosmetic, personal care and cleaning products as a source of plastic pollution in Australia’s waterways. Ministers met and agreed to “…secure a voluntary agreement from industry to phase out microbeads in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products”. The ministers also agreed to a “…phase out period of two years following commencement of the agreement, but no later than 1 July 2018”. It was also made clear that “Ministers will reassess the effectiveness of voluntary action in mid-2017. Ministers were clear that if the voluntary approach does not result in an effective ban they will move at that time to regulate to give effect to a ban”.
Accord Australasia, as the peak industry association for cosmetic, hygiene and specialty products has been coordinating the voluntary industry phase out of plastic microbeads. To facilitate the industry led voluntary phase out, Accord launched BeadRecede, an initiative open to member and non-member companies engaged in the making and supply of cosmetic, personal care and certain cleaning products included in the scope of the ban.
The BeadRecede initiative serves as a targeted promotional campaign to foster industry awareness and gain industry support for the phase out. It also forms a base for coordinating participation in the voluntary phase out across the industry in a manner that best allows ministers to receive the required progress reports from Accord.
Responses to the BeadRecede outreach in Feburary 2017 demonstrated that more than 50 percent of relevant companies have already completed their phase out of solid plastic microbeads. Pleasingly it also revealed that 93 percent of relevant companies are on board with meeting the phase out, having either already removed solid plastic microbeads or committing to do so in accordance with the ministers’ timeframe of no later than mid-2018.
The initial baseline report was considered by the MEM at their meeting on 28 July 2017, with the MEM expressing satisfaction with the progress so far: “Ministers welcomed industry progress to deliver a voluntary phase out of microbeads by mid-2018”.
The initial baseline report identified that broader industry outreach was needed in Australia for companies using solid plastic microbeads beyond their conventional usage, such as in heavy-duty hand soaps. Accord commenced this outreach in September 2017.
Also, worth noting are the latest scientific reports showing plastic microbeads to be less significant environmentally than some other microplastics, such as synthetic clothing microfibres. Accord believes it is time for environment policy attention to shift gears and give similar attention to the other sources of marine plastic pollution.
*The Meeting of Environment Ministers (MEM) includes the Federal Environment Minister and the environment ministers from each state and territory government.