What are microbeads?

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.

At the 2016 Meeting of Environment Ministers, ministers agreed to support a voluntary industry phase-out of plastic microbeads found in rinse-off personal care, cosmetic, and cleaning products. 

The voluntary phase-out has been led by Accord Australasia (Accord) through their BeadRecede campaign, and overseen by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the NSW EPA.

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