Microbeads ban: is your product affected?

Since 7 June 2018 it has been illegal to manufacture or sell some products containing microbeads in New Zealand.

May 2018

Microbeads are tiny plastic particles, including plastic-based glitter, that are added to products to increase their cleaning or scrubbing power, or to make the product look fun or appealing. You can find plastic microbeads in some face and body cleansers (scrubs or exfoliators), in bubble bath, toothpastes and heavy-duty hand soaps.

Microbeads in these ‘wash-off’ products are potentially harmful to marine life, to the food chain in the sea and to people, if contaminated sea food is eaten. The Government reviewed the rules and banned many, but not all, products containing microbeads to keep New Zealand’s marine environment healthy. This means it is illegal to manufacture or sell some products.

You could face a fine up to $100,000 if you knowingly break the rules and are caught.

This guide tells you which products are affected, and what to do if you own products containing microbeads.

Why some microbeads are banned Plus

Plastic microbeads are not biodegradable and our wastewater systems cannot completely remove them during water treatment. This means that after we wash these products down the drain, microbeads end up in our waterways and in the sea. They are difficult to remove from the environment once they have accumulated there.

Plastic microbeads can absorb and leach toxins over time. They are tiny (less than 5 mm across), are sometimes brightly-coloured and shiny, and could be mistaken for food, or accidentally eaten, causing long-term damage to some sea animals. Once eaten, the microbeads and the toxins they absorb can become a part of the marine food chain, which means they could end up in our food.

Not all microbeads are banned, and we will tell you more about this next.

Banned products Plus

Many of the larger retailers in New Zealand have already phased out products containing plastic microbeads. These products that contain plastic microbeads are banned:

  • ‘wash-off’ face, hand and body cleansers, scrubs and exfoliators
  • toothpastes
  • glitter bubble bath
  • abrasive cleaning products for the home, the car and for industrial cleaning (these are rare, if not absent, in New Zealand but are manufactured and sold overseas).

The following are not banned:

  • personal hygiene products containing natural particles, such as ground nutshells, pumice or other biodegradable materials
  • medicines and medical devices for direct therapeutic purposes, as defined in New Zealand law (see link below)
  • goods that are produced in, or imported into Australia and are lawfully sold in Australia (these goods are recognised under a trade agreement between New Zealand and Australia, the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997). Note: a voluntary phasing out of plastic microbeads in Australia is underway.
  • microbeads, including glitter, in wipe-off products, such as cosmetic makeup
  • microbeads, including glitter, sold as a craft material.

See a copy of the Waste Minimisation (Microbeads) Regulations 2017

For the legal definition of medicines and medical devices, see section 2(1) of the Medicines Act 1981

To read the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997

How to find out if a product is banned

The presence of microbeads is often, but not always, promoted on the product’s label, or listed in the ingredients. You could ask the original retailer, or seek advice from your manufacturer or supplier. You could also check the product’s safety data sheet (also known as an SDS). Be aware that even if you can’t see microbeads listed as an ingredient, they may still be present. Sometimes, the chemical name of the plastic may be used instead.

If in doubt about whether your product is approved for use in New Zealand, or have any other questions, please contact us. Our contact details are at the end of this page.

Guidance for manufacturers and suppliers Plus

Please read the section above ‘Which products are banned?’

  • It is illegal to manufacture or supply banned products containing plastic microbeads in New Zealand. If in doubt, please contact us.
  • Arrange for the safe disposal of remaining stocks of these products (we give you more information about this below). We recommend that you keep hold of your documentation about the disposal as a record.
Guidance for retailers and the public Plus

If you are a retailer

  • Check your stock
  • It is illegal to sell banned products containing plastic microbeads in New Zealand after 7 June 2018. If in doubt, please contact us.
  • Arrange for the safe disposal of remaining stocks of these products (we give you more information about this below), or discuss this with your supplier.

What to do if you bought, and still own, products containing microbeads

  • You can continue to use your cleansers, toothpastes and cleaning products, even though their manufacture and sale is banned.
  • Dispose of unused products safely (we give you more information about this below).
How to dispose of these products safely Plus

Most products should be fine to throw away with your non-recyclable household rubbish, or at your local landfill site. Please do not tip these products into your sink or drain.

Reporting products for sale Plus

If you find a banned product for sale, get in touch with us.

We are responsible for ensuring that banned microbead-containing products are not manufactured or sold in this country. We will work with the parties concerned to help them dispose of the products safely.

Questions? Contact us Plus

For advice on microbeads, phone us on 0800 2255 372 (0800 CALL EPA) or email Hazardous Substances Compliance team