The two principle measures of the French decree 2017-291
Following the decree 2017-291 of 6th March 2017, two types of plastics will be completely banned in cosmetics in France:
- Solid plastic particles (or microbeads) in exfoliating and cleaning products: « placing rinse-off exfoliating or cleaning cosmetics containing solid plastic particles on the market will be banned from 1st January 2018 in France. ».
- Plastic cotton buds: « plastic cotton buds will also be banned from 1st January 2020 ».
Why such a ban?
Microbeads are very small pieces of plastic, composed of synthetic polymers (essentially polyethylene). These microbeads are of no danger to human health. They are neither toxic nor irritating but they represent a real environmental hazard.
In fact, microbeads aren’t biodegradable and can stay present in the environment for a very long time, which means they can be ingested by animals living in the polluted environment. They present a risk for human health due to their bioaccumulation in marine organisms consumed by humans, such as oysters or mussels.
The long-term aim of the decree is part of a strategy to reduce plastic waste in the environment; hence the second measure on plastic cotton buds.
The other EU Member States’ position on microbeads
Note that this decree fits in with the current EU reflections on a global ban of microbeads in cosmetics.
Indeed, in 2016, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) already proposed a ban on products containing microbeads, which was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark.
The United Kingdom also opened a public consultation on the subject in 2016, revealing that cosmetic industry leaders were already considering a substitution of microbeads as opposed to some SMEs which were worried by such perspective.
With this French decree 2017-291, France is seen as a European pioneer by banning for good microbeads in cosmetics from the 1st January 2018.
Acceptable alternatives to plastic microbeads?
The decree specifies, for the 1st measure concerning mircobeads, the elements exempt from this ban: « natural particles, which are not prone to subsist in environments, to spread active ingredients or chemicals or to affect animal trophic chains».
The cosmetics industry therefore still has some flexibility to find alternatives that would fulfill the functions of microbeads without having any negative impacts on the environment.
Note that instead of microbeads, some companies already use hydrated silica, minerals such as salt, fruit stone powders and dried fruit, less harmful to the aquatic environment.
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