Breaking News: China's Microbeads Ban is Coming

On April 10, 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission, together with other relevant departments, organized to draft the Catalogue of Prohibited or Restricted Production, Sale and Use of Plastic Products, and to solicit public opinions from April 10 to April 19. The catalogue includes 6 categories of prohibited production and sale of plastic products and 7 categories of prohibited and restricted use of plastic products. The plastic products prohibited from production and sale include daily chemical products containing microbeads, mainly for rinse-off cosmetics (including bath lotion, facial cleanser, hand sanitizer, soap, shaving foam, scrub, shampoo, hair conditioner, makeup remover/oil), toothpaste and tooth powder that are intentionally added with solid plastic particles with a particle size of less than 5 mm for the purpose of scrub, exfoliation and cleaning. It does not include the plastic particles that are brought in by the outer packing of the product without any specific function.

What are plastic beads?

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Microbeads are a type of microplastics. Plastic fibers, particles or films with a diameter of less than 5 mm are generally considered as microplastics. Microbeads have various shapes of spherical, flake and polygon. They are usually composed of organic polymers, of which about 93% are polyethylene. In addition, polypropylene, polystyrene and polymethyl methacrylate can also be classified as microbeads. Microbeads generally play two roles in personal care products and cosmetics. The first is to play a role of physical friction in scrubbing, exfoliating and cleaning in rinse-off products, which is the most important function of early microbeads. The second is to improve skin feel in sunscreen, base makeup and make-up products.

The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) released a report in 2015, which gave examples of polymer components and their functions that conform to the definition of microplastics commonly used in personal care products and cosmetics, as shown in table 1 below.

Table 1 polymer components and functions commonly used in personal care products and cosmetics that meet the definition of microplastics

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China's microbeads management

At present, there is no legislation on microbeads management in China, but China has started to carry out relevant management work in recent years. Mainly include:

  • In 2017, the Marine Garbage and Microplastics Research Center was established at the National Marine Environment Monitoring Center to conduct research on technologies, methods and management countermeasures related to the regulation of marine garbage and microplastics.
  • In 2017, “cosmetics and cleaning products with microbeads” and “microbeads additives” were added into the product list of "high pollution and high environmental risk" according to the Comprehensive Environmental Protection List (2017) issued by the former Ministry of Environmental Protection (now Ministry of Ecological Environment), but the Comprehensive Environmental Protection List (2017) does not restrict the use of microbeads.
  • On March 25, 2019, the National Standardization Management Committee decided to issue the first batch of recommended national standard plans for 2019, including the Determination of Microbeads in Cosmetics.
  • On October 30, 2019, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) issued the Guidance Catalogue for Industrial Structure Adjustment (2019 version), which was officially implemented on January 1, 2020. The third type of the elimination category stipulates:" daily chemical products containing microbeads shall be banned from production by December 31, 2020, and will not be sold by December 31, 2022", etc.
  • On January 16, 2020, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued the “Opinions on Further Strengthening the Control of Plastic Pollution. In accordance with the principle of "banning one batch, replacing and circulating one batch, and standardizing one batch", those three major tasks were supposed to be completed in 2020, 2022, and 2025, respectively.
  • In March 2020, the State Administration for Market Regulation and China National Standardization Administration issued the standard for the Determination of Microbeads in Cosmetics (Draft for Comments), which explained the definition, testing standards and methods of microbeads.

CIRS conclusions and recommendations

Impact of the microbeads ban on the cosmetics industry

There are many natural or biodegradable alternatives to the microbeads used in rinse-off cosmetics (such as sea salt, coconut shells, oats, almonds, or cocoa butter are all good natural exfoliators). However, in the leave-one products such as makeup and sunscreen products, microbeads are widely used in the formula as skin conditioner, bulking agents and film forming agents. There is no perfect substitute in the short term. China's ban on plastic beads, like those in other countries, focuses on the rinse-off cosmetics. At present, there are already some substitute ingredients available in the market and the domestic enterprises do not use much of them, so they can cope with the one-year transition period. But it is inevitable trend to extend the ban on plastic beads to all categories of cosmetics. Global cosmetics companies should be prepared in advance for formulation and process improvement.

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Reference:

Catalogue of Prohibited or Restricted Production, Sale and Use of Plastic Products for public comments