Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019

Jurisdiction: Republic of Ireland

Commencement: 20th February 2020


This Act provides for the prohibition on the manufacture or placing on the market of certain products containing microbeads. Restrictions are also imposed for disposing of substances containing microbeads.

A microbead is classed as any water-insoluble solid plastic particle with a diameter less than 5mm.


Prohibition of microbeads

A person shall not manufacture or place on the market a cosmetic product* or a cleaning product** that is water soluble and contains microbeads in excess of 0.01% of the weight of the product.

Anyone who deliberately manufacturers / places microbeads on the market is committing an offence. Where microbeads end up in products by mistake, if manufacturers can show they took all reasonable precautions to prevent microbeads to stop this from happening, this can be used as an acceptable defence.

*A cosmetic product is any substance or combination of substances produced to either clean, protect, maintain, change the appearance, or improve the condition of the skin, hair, nails, teeth or gums of a person.

**A cleaning product is a substance that is intended to be used in cleaning any surface or material. Such products include detergent, fabric softener, conditioner, bleaching agent or solvent.


The following products containing microbeads are to be exempt from this Act:

  • Medicinal products.
  • Any products where the purpose is to protect the skin from the effects of ultraviolet radiation.
  • If a product containing microbeads is being supplied to:
    • a relevant provider*; or
    • an approved body.
  • Products that are in transit.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may approve bodies to become an approved body if the EPA is satisfied that it is a function of the body to engage in scientific research or carry out scientific examinations of substances.

Ministers may make additional regulations to exempt products containing microbeads that are used for an industrial cleaning method where the use of microbeads cannot be substituted.

*A relevant provider is one of the following:

  • a previously established university;
  • an educational institution established as a university;
  • the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland;
  • the Dublin Institute of Technology; or
  • a provider who has entered into an arrangement with an awarding body

Disposal of microbeads

A person must not dispose, or cause the disposal, of a substance containing microbeads in the following areas:

  • the maritime area or the inland waters of the State;
  • any drain, service connection or waste water works;
  • any domestic wastewater treatment system; or
  • on the high seas from an Irish ship.

If in the disposal process the microbeads accidently enter the above areas, evidence must be shown that all reasonable precautions were taken to prevent the accidental release of microbeads. If this can be demonstrated, this can be used as an acceptable defence of the contravention.

Powers for authorised persons

Commercial properties

If those who are considered authorised persons* suspect an organisation is manufacturing or placing on the market microbeads, then a range of powers are given in order to ensure organisations are complying with this Act. These powers include:

  • Entering a premises at all reasonable times to inspect any premises.
  • Taking copies of books, records or other documents containing information relating to microbeads.
  • Removing books, records, documents, labels or packaging from the premises to retain them for their inspections.
  • Conduct examinations of products containing microbeads or any equipment and machinery.
  • Require any person at the inspected premises to assist gathering information and to produce the necessary documentation when required.
  • Require any person at the inspected premises to answer questions that may help assist with the investigation.
  • Taking samples of any substance or product containing microbeads or likely to contain microbeads.
  • Direct that any substance or product containing microbeads or likely to contain microbeads cannot be moved without the authorised persons consent.
  • Secure the premises for later inspection.
  • Take possession of any substance or product containing microbeads or is likely to contain microbeads.


An inspector cannot enter a dwelling (i.e. a place of residency) unless they have consent from the occupier or a warrant is issued to enter the dwelling.

If there are reasonable grounds for believing that a dwelling is connected with the manufacture, placing on the market, disposal, storage, packaging or labelling of products containing microbeads, or information relating to business activity is kept, then inspectors are able to enter and inspect the dwelling and perform the functions of an authorised person listed above.

* Authorised persons can be any of the following:

  • a person appointed in writing by a Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government; or
  • a local authority or the Environmental Protection Agency.


Anyone; whether it be the general public, manufacturers, sellers etc., who conducts the following is guilty of an offence:

  • Those who manufacture or place on the market, a cosmetic product and/or a cleaning product that is water soluble and contains microbeads in excess of the permitted concentration as mentioned above.
  • Disposing of microbeads within the prohibited areas as mentioned above.
  • Obstructs or interferes with an authorised person or a member of the Garda Síochána (the Irish police force).
  • Fails to comply with the requirement of an authorised person or a member of the Garda Síochána.
  • Fails or refuses to comply with a direction of an authorised person or member of the Garda Síochána.

If any substance or product containing microbeads is found at the inspected premises, the person in charge of that premises is required to provide the name and address of the supplier to the authorised person.

Those found to be guilty of an offence will be liable to receive a maximum fine of EUR3,000,000 and/or a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.


Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019 (Commencement) Order 2020 (SI 36/2020)

This Commencement Order brings the Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019 into force on the 20th February 2020.


Link to full government text


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