Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic, often microscopic in size, that are added to a range of products, including rinse-off cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products. They are often included for their exfoliant or abrasive properties.
These tiny plastic pieces can end up in rivers, lakes and oceans by being washed down sinks or drains after use. Microbeads are so small they cannot be filtered out during normal sewage treatment works.
Once in the water, microbeads have the potential to cause harm in the environment and to human health due to their composition, ability to attract toxins and to transfer up the food chain. Microbeads persist in the environment as they do not readily biodegrade and are almost impossible to remove from the environment due to their size. The best way to reduce their impact is to prevent them from entering the environment.
The EPA chairs a multi-disciplinary Microplastics Working Group. The work of this group was presented to the Meeting of Environment Ministers in December 2015.
As a result, the Environment Ministers from all Australian state, territory and federal governments agreed to work towards a voluntary agreement from industry to phase out microbeads in personal care, cosmetic and cleaning products by 1 July 2018.