Rare occurrence as environmental groups applaud gov’t restriction on microplastic

Posted on : 2016-09-30 17:49 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Groups now advocating full prevention of ecologically disruptive tiny particles found in cosmetics and everyday products
Microplastic in toothpaste (provided by Greenpeace)
Microplastic in toothpaste (provided by Greenpeace)

For once, a policy announcement by the South Korean government has earned the applause of environmental advocacy groups.

On Sep. 29, environmental organization Greenpeace said that it welcomed a ban on the use of microplastic announced by South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

Microplastic refers to small particles of plastic that are less than 5mm in size which are thought to disrupt ecosystems. There is even a high risk that these particles could eventually reach the dining table, since they are consumed by sea creatures that mistake them for food and gradually make their way up the food chain. This has led countries around the world to regulate products that use microplastic in order to prevent them from entering the ocean.

Microplastic to be added to toothpaste (provided by Greenpeace)
Microplastic to be added to toothpaste (provided by Greenpeace)

On Sep. 29, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) announced an upcoming revision to the Rules for Cosmetic Safety Standards. The new rules ban the use of hard plastic particles that are 5mm in size or smaller from cosmetics that are distributed in South Korea. These small plastic particles are included in facial scrubs and cleansers that are used to exfoliate and smoothen skin.

The revised rules will apply to manufactured or imported cosmetics starting in July 2017. From July 2018, the rules will also ban the sale of previously manufactured cosmetics that contain microplastic.

“This revision is a very positive first step toward regulating microplastic. It sets a positive precedent for revising legislation about cosmetics because of environmental pollution,” said Park Tae-hyeon, a senior activist at Greenpeace in charge of protecting oceans.

On July 6, Greenpeace launched a campaign to draw attention to the threat posed by microplastic and to call for regulatory legislation. So far, more than 24,000 South Koreans have signed the campaign petition.

The Korean Women's Environmental Network (KWEN) also released a statement on Sep. 29 supporting the Ministry’s announcement. Since last year, KWEN has been calling for regulation of microplastic and organizing the “Face to Fish” campaign in order to tackle the issue of microplastic in cosmetics.

“The revision to the rules is the first step toward the government regulating microplastic. This is significant in the sense that it was designed not only to stop microplastic from polluting the environment but also to prevent the potential impact that microplastic can have on sea creatures when it remains in marine ecosystems,” KWEN said in its statement.

“But since microplastic can be used not only in cosmetics but also in a wide variety of everyday products including toothpaste and bathroom detergent, its use cannot be stopped completely if the ban only applies to cosmetics. This is why we need regulations to be passed that will completely prevent its use,” KWEN added.

By Kim Jeong-su, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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