The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday said it is to impose a ban on cosmetics and toothpastes containing plastic microbeads next year to prevent plastic particle water pollution.
“The EPA will ban the production, importation and sale of personal care products and toothpastes containing microbeads next year at the earliest,” Department of Waste Management Director Wu Sheng-chung (吳盛忠) said.
Wu made the announcement at a news conference convened by Taiwan Watch Institute and Greenpeace Taiwan calling for the phasing out of the use of microbeads in cosmetics and toothpastes — the latest in a series of such attempts since last year.
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are widely used in exfoliating agents. They are too small to be picked up by sewage filtration systems so they enter the ocean and food chain, causing damage to human health, Taiwan Watch Institute researcher Sun Wei-tzu (孫瑋孜) said.
“Microbeads are smaller than most plastic debris in the ocean and are consumed by marine organisms. Microbeads absorb organic pollutants around them, making them like pills of highly concentrated toxins,” Sun said.
A study published last week in the academic journal Science found that perch larvae exposed to microplastic particles showed lower growth rates, lower activity levels and higher mortality rates, and that larvae prefer eating microbeads to their natural food source zooplankton, Sun said.
A Belgian study in 2014 showed that microbeads had been found in farmed oysters, and it was estimated that European shellfish consumers ingested about 11,000 microbeads per year.
While the use of microbeads is banned in Canada and is to be prohibited in the US, a survey by the institute found that 42 percent of personal care products sold in Taiwan contain microbeads, with a tube of facial foam containing hundreds of thousands of particles, institute secretary-general Herlin Hsieh (謝和霖) said.
Microbeads are also present in products that do not advertise a scrubbing or peeling function.
A survey of 6,526 people conducted by the institute showed that 65 percent of respondents wanted microbeads to be banned within six months.
While supporting the banning of the substance, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) said the agency should speed up the ban.
“The EPA should do the right thing immediately if it really wants to break away from its role as a passive and submissive agency, as EPA Minister Lee Ying-yuan [李應元] has said. The most urgent tasks now are banning microbeads and controlling slag,” Lin said.
“Microbeads have a limited exfoliating effect, but a significant impact on the environment, and banning the substance is advantageous to everyone but manufacturers. Why do we have to protect manufacturers of harmful products?” Hsieh said.
The institute has developed a smartphone application to enable users to scan barcodes of cosmetic products to check whether they contain microbeads. The app can be downloaded from the institute’s Web site.
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