Ban on cosmetic microbeads set to be blocked

A Green Party bid to ban pollutant plastic particles in cosmetics is set to be opposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

Ban on cosmetic microbeads set to be blocked

Microplastic poses a growing concern in oceans and other aquatic habitat. Image: Oregon State University

The Green Party has lashed out at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over their refusal to back a new bill banning the manufacture and sale of microbeads in cosmetic products.

The Green Party proposal is due for debate in the Seanad this evening; however both parties are set to oppose the motion.

Microbeads and microplastics are tiny plastic particles, commonly present in facial scrubs, soaps, shower gels, toothpastes and many other cosmetic and industrial processes.

Green Party Senator, Grace O’Sullivan said the particles are too small to be caught by water filtration systems and end up in rivers, lakes and seas causing serious problems for marine-life.

“To put it simply, fish can’t tell the difference between these plastic micro-beads and the tiny particles of food they eat,” said Senator O’Sullivan.

“Fish fill up on these microbeads - which have absolutely no nutritional value - and they can’t be digested. They sit in the fish’s stomach and they die of malnutrition.”

The Waterford senator she is “extremely disappointed” the bill will be blocked this evening and warned the plastics are “doing untold damage to our marine environment and wildlife.”

“This bill was to be a straightforward, simple bill to protect the environment,” she said.

“There has been ample opportunity for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to work with us to amend the bill if they had concerns or suggestions to improve it.

“They chose instead to torpedo the bill at the 11th hour with excuses which are flimsy at best."

At a cabinet meeting yesterday, Housing Minister Simon Coveney said the government is supportive of banning microbeads in principal - but warned imposing a ban at this stage would go against Article 33 and 35 of the EU treaty which guarantees the free movement of goods.

The government has previously come out in support of a ban "in principal" however it warned a time frame is needed before a blanket ban is introduced so that “industry has time to adapt.”

Senator O’Sullivan said other EU jurisdictions are already focusing on introducing a ban and claimed Article 36 of the treaty, “clearly states that single market regulations do not prevent bans or restrictions on sales on the grounds of the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants.”

Fianna Fáil Environment Spokesperson, Timmy Dooley insisted the party is “committed to banning the use of these terrible products,” however he said the Green Party motion, “while moving in the right direction, is very restricted and applies only to a small range of products.”

“I hope to shortly bring forward a more robust Bill on the matter,” he said. “Given the interaction with Europe on this matter, we need to make sure that we get any Irish legislation right - that is what our team are working on right now.”

Microbeads are already banned in the US with similar moves underway in Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, France and Italy.

In the UK, the government’s Environmental Audit Committee has called for a total ban on the particles by the end of 2017.

The committee chair, Mary Creagh said a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.

A study published late last year estimated that between 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles had accumulated in the world’s oceans by the end of 2014.

Senator O’Sullivan said public awareness on the issue is growing - but warned the plastics are so commonly used within the cosmetics industry, people are unwittingly flushing millions down the drain every day.

“The truth of the matter here is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are vetoing this bill because they don’t want it passing if they can’t get the credit for it,” she said.

“They will facilitate the continued destruction of the marine environment to score some political points down the line.

“As an environmental activist - and someone who recently entered politics to effect change - this is profoundly disappointing to me.”