The New Zealand government has announced that, as of July next year, it will ban make-up and beauty products that contain spherical plastic beads, or microbeads, out of concern about their impact on waterways and marine life. These tiny plastic particles can usually be found in face washes, body scrubs, sunscreens, toothpaste and acne treatment products, where they are used as exfoliating agents. Due to their small size, microbeads are not filtered out in treatment plants and, once they escape into rivers and oceans, they cause long-term damage to aquatic animals.

In announcing the ban, Environment Minister Nick Smith said he had been disappointed to find several products containing beads still available in NZ supermarkets. Other countries have already moved to ban microplastics from cosmetics, including the UK which will enforce a ban from the end of this year.

"Banning microbeads in personal care products is a great step forward that will remove one source of microplastics entering the oceans," said Dr Sally Gaw of the Department of Chemistry, University of Canterbury. "Further steps will be required to reduce the enormous volume of plastics entering our oceans each year. We need to re-evaluate our love affair with plastic, and get smarter about how and when we use plastic if we are to protect our oceans."

The cosmetics industry reacted positively to the news, with general support for the government's decision. Some, like Manuka Doctor, House of Camille and Weleda NZ, are already using natural, harmless alternatives to microbeads. In its Birch Body Scrub range, Weleda NZ has opted for natural beeswax and plant wax pearls, while Manuka Doctor uses naturally-derived exfoliating ingredients such as bamboo stem extract and dragon fruit extract.