“Through investigations over the last five years, some of which pioneered by the NGO ‘Beat the Microbead’, it has been found that micro-beads both pollute water supplies and pose a risk to maritime life which ingests these plastic beads.”
Ireland will be the next nation to take a stance on the usage of microbeads and microplastics products both sold and manufactured in Ireland. Bans have already been made in the Netherlands, Canada, the US and most recently the UK, which will come into effect in 2017, and 446 brands from 117 different manufacturers already committed to being microbead free across the globe.
Microbeads are non-biodegradable solid plastic particles found in cosmetic products such as toothpaste, cleansers and shampoos. Increasingly, microbeads have replaced biodegradable alternatives such as ground nut shells and salt crystals for their plastic or nylon based balls. Microplastics is an overarching term used to describe plastic waste, such as microbeads.
Through investigations over the last five years, some of which pioneered by the NGO ‘Beat the Microbead’, microbeads have been found to both pollute water supplies and pose a risk to maritime life which ingests these plastic beads. A larger study of the United States Great Lakes had similar findings; because the beads are non-biodegradable, they also are found in larger fish and fish eating birds.
Studies of European aquatic life further demonstrates the threat posed by microplastic pollution; European Perch populations (a common, predatory fish in Europe and Eurasia) are becoming increasingly endangered because they mistake microplastics for natural food sources. Once ingested, European Perch produce 15% less hatchlings and moreover they cause inactivity in hatchlings making them easier prey to predators.
An Taisce called for a quick phase out of microbeads in 2014 on the basis and that “it is likely that we are also absorbing microbeads from the food we eat”. Microbeads are also a key contributor to the phenomenon of “plastic soup”, which refers to the accumulation of plastic found in our oceans which, according to National Geographic, amounts to approximately four billion plastic microfibres per square kilometre in the deep sea alone.
The decision to propose a ban was initiated by the Green Party this year. When launched in the Dáil on the 22nd November, Bill Number 87 on Microbead and Microplastic Prevention calls for the banning of microbeads and close monitoring of our marine and water systems for the presence of microplastics.
The proposed bill will, if passed, ban all microbeads. This will be enforced with a possible €10,000 fine for each item for sale, sold, or manufactured. Additionally, accurate measurement and analysis of Irish coastal waters, river systems, and marine life along with the wider environment will be carried out on a yearly basis by the EPA which is to be presented to the Minister for Environment with detailed recommendations.
The call for these monitoring measures will likely be the most contentious element of the bill, due to the costs it implies, but it is already an EU obligation to carry out monitoring of our water and environment, this section of the bill simply enforces it on a domestic level.
Leading up to its launch in the Dáil on the 22nd November, Bill Number 87 has received cross-party consensus because of its simple and positive environmental impacts. The TCDSU Environment Lobby Group plans to support the passing of this bill in Ireland.