Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 12 Feb 2019

General Scheme of the Prohibition of Certain Products Containing Plastic Microbeads Bill 2018: Discussion

Members and visitors in the Public Gallery are asked to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or on airplane mode. It is not sufficient to turn phones on silent as this maintains a level of interference in the broadcasting system.

No. 4 on today's agenda is pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the prohibition of certain products containing plastic microbeads Bill 2018. I welcome Dr. Róisín Nash and Dr. Anne Marie Mahon of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology and Dr. Kevin Lynch from NUI Galway. I also welcome Ms Siobhán Dean of the Irish Cosmetics Detergents and Allied Products Association and Mr. John Chave of Cosmetics Europe.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Dr. Anne Marie Mahon to make her opening statement.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

I thank the joint committee for inviting us to engage on this topic. It is of particular interest to us as we are very active in the area of research on microplastics pollution. The statement submitted outlines the sources and some potential impacts of microplastics. I reiterate our support for the proposed Bill.

I will present some of our current and previous work in which we investigated sources and pathways of microplastics. I will begin with the sources of microplastics and what we know about pathways to the freshwater environment. A desktop study in 2015, which was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, outlined some potential sources of microplastics pollution in freshwater environments.

The study identified some catchments which had potentially high-risk microplastic pollution. We also did a smaller scale study in which we were able to quantify some of these microplastic levels and describe some of the sources.

With particular relevance to microplastics coming from industry, we visited some industry polymer companies. In one of these, polymerisation processes took place, while another had machining of microplastics. We found that even though these were quite well regulated plastics industries with their own on-site treatment, they still emitted substantial amounts of microplastics to the sewer. As well as accidental emissions to a sewer, we also identified some allowable discharges to a sewer which take place due to the current lack of regulation of microplastics in industry. In our plastics industries, there is an allowable suspended solid loading which is quantified in milligrams per litre. This can equate to quite high levels of microplastics emissions. This problem of allowable emissions has also been flagged internationally by Lechner and Ramler in 2015, as they quantified high numbers of microplastics coming out of an Austrian recycling industry.

As well as the accidental and allowable emissions to a sewer, there is also a potential for accidental spillages within industry, such as spillages onto factory floors or onto the surrounding hard substrate outside. There remains potential for run-off in the storm water drain or perhaps direct run-off into freshwater. The EPA has funded GMIT and UCD to carry out a project, Sources, Pathways and Environmental Fate of Microplastics, in which we are examining the potential for plastics to be found in the vicinity of plastics industries by sampling the sewer drain and assessing the potential for direct input by looking at nearby water courses. This work is ongoing.

Pathways from the sources into our sewers have been examined in recent years by several researchers, including us. In summary, many sources such as those emanating from industry, landfill, storm water drains and domestic use such as washing machines drainage enter the wastewater treatment plant system. Upon entering, the microplastic loading is partitioned into what comes out in the receiving waters and what is captured in the sewage sludge. We found there is a high capture rate within wastewater treatment plants of roughly 90%. In Ireland, microplastics which are incorporated into the sewage sludge may find their way back onto the land due to spreading of sewage sludge practices. The remaining 10%, which is not a low figure, ends up in our rivers and lakes. We do not really know where the microplastics go from there or what impact they may have on the environment or human health.

Some other sources we are currently investigating include microplastics emanating from the construction industry, as it has a very high plastics demand, and from AstroTurf or artificial pitches and playgrounds. We have carried out sampling and are currently analysing some of our data. What we want to see is how plastics are spread or transported from these sources and if there is a danger to nearby water courses. Preliminary results show that aspects of construction design dramatically reduce the leakage of microplastics from AstroTurf pitches.

They include microplastics from AstroTurf pitches, used in the construction of boundaries and other features. Other sources and pathways for microplastics which we really want to investigate include how microplastics, once they become land-spread, are transported overland into nearby watercourses. In our current study we are investigating the potential for and the mechanisms for overland movement and run-off from rainwater, as well as the vertical migration of microplastics. This is being done via a series of experiments and fieldwork. We are also investigating the potential for microplastics in the freshwater environment to be transferred through the food chain and monitoring microplastics in a number of watercourses, particularly in the River Slaney catchment. Preliminary results of this work show that all of the river water samples obtained so far contain microplastics, the majority of which are microplastic fibres. We have found that microplastics are present in all of the invertebrate species we have captured from rivers.

There are certain points at which we might be able to intervene. There is a high number of clean-up initiatives under way on beaches and rivers. While this is very useful and important for the surrounding ecosystem, more emphasis should be placed on intervention at an earlier stage. Of course, prevention is the best solution to the problem; therefore, we very much support legislation or regulations to reduce the production and use of plastics. This might also be feasible through awareness campaigns, or consumer-driven initiatives. Furthermore, there is great scope for intervention at the product design stage. Once microplastics or plastics reach the environment or are in use, effective waste management and potential change of industrial practices are very important means by which to decrease dramatically their leakage into the environment. They can be captured and well managed once they reach receptors such as a wastewater treatment plant. Technological upgrades to treatment plants to deal with microplastics and allow improved waste management of sludge derived from the plants could also help. There are a number of clean-up initiatives available once microplastics reach the environment.

The last slide shows my team which helps to make this research become a reality. My colleague, Dr. Róisin Nash, will give the committee an insight into microplastics in the marine environment.

Dr. Róisín Nash

Having heard about the potential sources of and pathways for microplastics in waterways, it makes sense to look at estuaries, bays, inlets and oceans as their probable destiny but also as sources of secondary microplastics. All habitats and species mentioned hereafter can be taken to have recorded the presence of microplastics. Studies have reported the ubiquitous recording of microplastics in the Irish marine environment. At GMIT, experienced marine microplastics scientists are answering a number of research questions involving identification and quantification in seawater, sediments and biota. Our aims are to build on the knowledge base, particularly in an Irish context; to produce comparative standardised methodologies; to improve comparability throughout Europe; to increase ocean literacy through providing information on microplastics in Irish commercial species and taking an ecosystem-based approach to our research using Irish case studies.

Looking at the earlier studies of microplastics, much of the focus, both in Ireland and outside, was on building a knowledge base. Dr. Amy Lusher wrote her PhD in GMIT on microplastics and began to show the ubiquitous distribution of microplastics in seawater of the coast and the presence of microplastics both in mesopelagic fish and True’s beaked whales.

Dr. Heidi Acampora did her PhD in microplastics and macroplastics in GMIT where she began to show the high levels of plastics in beached seabirds through carrying out beach bird and colony surveys with the help of Citizen Science. She helped to develop and apply European methodologies for necroscopies in Ireland. The results of her research led to the use of an OSPAR ecology quality objective to reduce the levels of litter and plastic particles in fulmar stomachs in Ireland. Current research by Andrew Power, a PhD candidate on a Marine Institute Cullen fellowship, is looking at seabird eggs to reduce the levels of hazardous substances in the eggs. Niall Keogh, a PhD student, is building on the knowledge of the interactions of seabirds and marine litter, both inshore and offshore. Dr. La Daana Kanhai recorded microplastics along latitudinal gradients, including upwelling, in the Atlantic Ocean and seawater sediments and sea ice in the Arctic Sea basin.

In the area of methodologies, research led by Dr. Anne Marie Mahon is exploring the use of different plankton nets to sample surface microplastics using Galway Bay as a case study. This has resulted in providing recommendations on the sampling and processing of microplastics in surface waters in Europe. The research will also provide valuable Irish data for the levels of microplastics in our backyard. Building on this research, GMIT is particularly invested in quality control and rigorous scientific standards in the research of microplastics and it subsequently led to our involvement in BASEMAN, a JPI Oceans project, with funding supported by the Irish Marine Institute. Research involving Dr. João Frias, Dr. Anne Marie Mahon, Dr. Ian O’Connor and me has resulted in the production of European standardised methodologies for seawater, sediment and biota and recommendations for monitoring.

Research into commercial species is important to increase our knowledge base. As ocean literacy increases and consumers become more aware of microplastics, they become very interested in the risks associated with seafood. We have researchers who have examined the intestinal tracts of pelagic fish and the Dublin Bay prawn from fish grounds off the south and west coasts. The blue mussel is regularly consumed in Ireland, while the common prawn is largely exported. They have both recorded low levels of microplastics in their intestinal tracts. We have several research projects exploring research questions in spatial differences and potential impacts on behaviour, etc. The lug worm, best known for its use as bait, has the potential to result in bioaccumulation of microplastics up the food chain to its predators.

With so much research, national and international, focusing on individual species, we felt it was important to take an ecosystem approach to get a better overview of what was happening in a bay. Therefore, Elena Pagter, a PhD candidate, and Dr. João Frias are using Galway Bay to build a more complete picture to inform both policy makers and the local community. Based on the research presented and the fact that, for many products, there are numerous feasible alternatives that may be utilised instead of microplastics, we are in support of the general scheme of the 2018 Bill for the prohibition of certain products containing plastic microbeads.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

The Bill, as presented, seems to be comprehensive from my point of view. As we saw at the last meeting of the committee, as well as in the presentations made today by my colleagues from GMIT, there is a lot of evidence that microplastics are a problem. Our studies show that sediments contain microplastics both from historical and continuing pollution events. Microplastics in the environment look like food to the organisms which consume them. They then bioaccumulate which has direct impacts on the organisms and the higher predators which feed on them. There is evidence of microplastics in both the blue mussel and nephrops in Galway Bay and on the west coast generally, which means that they are in the food chain, which gives real cause for concern. This evidence adds to international research in the area which confirms the problem across the globe. In Norway the same species have been seen to contain microplastics.

From that we can extrapolate that this is a real problem. Rather than waiting for extensive research specifically in an Irish context, invoking the precautionary principle is a really good idea. We welcome that the Bill provides that, rather than waiting for all this research over the next number of years, we will invoke the precautionary principle and act now to try to prevent additional primary microplastics entering the environment.

The clear definition of microbeads in the Bill, which is inclusive of all plastic particles in the size range, is welcome. It was less clear in the previous Bill. It is now clearly defined and it makes it easy to understand what exactly the Bill covers. That is also welcome.

In terms of the penalty for breaching the law, my reading of it, which may be wrong, is that it would be €500. That does not seem adequate for the purposes. It would be a question for the committee as to whether that is correct.

Overall, the Bill appears to be a good addition to our attempts to tackle this microplastics problem in the environment. I welcome it in its current state and it appears to be a good Bill with which to proceed.

Does Ms Dean wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Siobhán Dean

Yes. I thank the joint committee for this opportunity to consult on the prohibition of certain products containing plastic microbeads Bill 2018. The Irish Cosmetics Detergents and Allied Products Association is the IBEC group representing Irish companies engaged in the manufacture, distribution and sale of cosmetics, detergents and allied household products. The cosmetics and detergent sector takes the issue of plastic aquatic litter seriously and shares the overarching goals of the Government and European Union to address this challenge. I am joined today by Mr. John Chave, director general of Cosmetics Europe, a European trade association representing more than 4,500 companies and national associations in the cosmetics and personal care sector in Europe.

The cosmetics and detergent sector has taken positive action on the occurrence of plastic microbeads in the marine environment. Building on voluntary initiatives taken by its individual members companies, on 21 October 2015, Cosmetics Europe issued the following recommendation to its members:

In view of the public concerns expressed over plastic debris in the marine environment, and given the availability of alternative materials, Cosmetics Europe recommends its membership to discontinue, in wash-off cosmetic products placed on the market as of 2020: the use of synthetic, solid plastic particles used for exfoliating and cleansing that are non-biodegradable in the marine environment.

Results of 2018 data collected by Cosmetics Europe show that between 2012 and 2017, the European cosmetics industry phased out as much as 97.6 % of plastic microbeads used for exfoliating and cleaning purposes in rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products. The European industry is on track to achieve 100% phase-out of plastic microbeads by 2020. Our voluntary action was taken in spite of it being widely acknowledged that the cosmetics sector is a minor potential contributor. Studies estimate a potential contribution of between 0.1% and 2% of the total aquatic plastic litter. This potential minor contribution is ever decreasing as progress has been made towards the completion of the phase-out of plastic microbeads. In fact, by far the largest potential contributors to microplastic marine litter are from the breakdown of bigger plastics, for example, car tyres, plastic pellets and microfibres from clothes.

Similar to personal care products, the use of microbeads in home care products is very limited and is further decreasing as several companies have already announced their intention to reformulate their product in a more environmentally friendly way.

In the 2016 European Commission study to support the development of measures to combat a range of marine litter sources, detergents and maintenance products were not identified as key contributors to marine plastic litter.

The sector traditionally makes limited use of materials that could qualify as microplastics. In acknowledgment, however, of the potential litter stemming from secondary microplastics during the washing of synthetic textiles, the industry is actively engaged in a cross-industry agreement, through the European Free Trade Association, with European industry associations representing the global value supply chain of garments and their maintenance. The agreement, which is referred to in the European Commission's strategy for plastics, supports the need for further investigation and a better understanding for the prevention of microplastics released into the environment during the washing cycle. It also aims to find feasible solutions based on science and research that can be effectively applied by industry, consumers and authorities.

In conclusion, voluntary actions taken by the industry are proving extremely effective at removing plastic microbeads from products. Any proposed ban of microbeads in detergents and rinse-off personal care products must be supported by clear definitions to operate effectively. The proposed definition of microbeads in the general scheme is too broad and, as a result, would prevent Irish manufacturers manufacturing rinse-off cosmetics and detergent products that would otherwise be permitted in EU countries. It would also remove many products on the Irish market until they were reformulated. The business and consumer impacts in the general scheme, however, do not take this into account. Pending the outcomes of the European Chemicals Agency REACH restriction process, it is essential for the smooth functioning of the European Single Market not to create regulatory barriers to trade. We encourage the scope of any proposed regulatory measures to align with existing member state legislation, such as is in place in Britain and pending in Northern Ireland, to avoid disadvantaging the Irish manufacturing industry.

I thank Ms Dean. As Mr. Chave has nothing to add, I call on Senator Grace O'Sullivan.

Dr. Mahon referred to pathways in regard to her research of freshwater. Does the pathway of her research extend to the coastal environment? Rivers flow into the sea. Is that where the plastic will end up?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

The reason we started to do freshwater research was that much was already known about microplastics in the marine environment. Much research had been carried out but little was known about the source of microplastics and why they were there. To date, we do not know exactly how plastics transition from land to sea, although we know that all plastics in the sea originate on land. While some may be carried directly to the sea, we suspect that rivers are major corridors. In our research on this particular project, we do not go down to the estuary but we have begun to add more research to bridge the gap between freshwater and the marine. For example, we have an estuarine study starting this summer.

Where will that study take place?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

In the Shannon Estuary. We will decide which plastic loading to examine. We are beginning to examine macroplastics to determine what is coming out of the rivers.

Dr. Mahon referred to the potential pathways of microplastics from industry and emissions to the atmosphere. Will she explain that?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

Some microplastics are small, depending on the polymer type. They can also be light and can be dispersed into the atmosphere. Some researchers in Paris have examined the atmospheric fallout of particles and found that it can be significant. I included the table in my presentation to highlight that following industrial processes or any processes, many microplastics, from sources such as tyre dust, can be transported through the air by wind before arriving elsewhere later. It is important to acknowledge that pathway.

I am concerned when Dr. Mahon talks about the pathway through the sewer system where one has the anaerobic digestion, the thermal drying and the lime.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon


I am very concerned about the fact that waste is reused and recycled and could be ending up as a fertiliser on our land. Is that possible?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

Yes, sewage sludge is used as a fertiliser for tillage, not for crops for human consumption. There are regulations or guidelines regarding the application of sewage sludge. For example, there are regulations regarding the distance from a watercourse and what kind of weather one should or should not spread in. Some sewage sludge is applied untreated. Most is applied treated. These treatments, which we looked at in one study, have an impact on the microplastics. They can exacerbate the problem by breaking the particles down further. One of the main threats or reasons we are concerned about microplastics is the size. The smaller they get the more environmental compartments they can penetrate. They can go into the lower bottom of the food chain and can be transported up readily. Once they go into the nanometer range, they can cross a cell membrane. The smaller they get, the more concerned we are about it.

Essentially, through the use of this sludge on land, the plastic is being dug into our soil. Even if it is just being used for tillage, it is nevertheless part of a bigger ecosystem. With other species, even if we go to our lugworm-----

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

Or our terrestrial worm.

-----it is very invasive across all ecosystems.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

We are currently intensifying our investigations on land and we are taking some sediment cores on sites that have been land-spread with sewage sludge for 20 years to see what the vertical profile of the microplastics would be. We hope that we will get an idea from that as to whether the microplastics will be mobilised after a rain event, therefore increasing the risk to local, nearby watercourses or whether they would be transported vertically and perhaps enter the groundwater. Either way, it is not ideal.

On eco-toxicology, one thing we have been hearing about in the media is the particles of plastic, be they micro, macro or nano of this polymer if one looks at the base. Can Dr. Mahon tell us something about this eco-toxicology and how the plastic might attract other chemicals? Not only does one have the polymer - that little bit of plastic - but one also has an accumulation of toxins around that.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

There are two aspects to this. There is the polymer itself which has inherent chemicals. Some are plasticisers and some are additives to give that plastic whatever function it should have. These plastics can leach and the smaller the particle, the more readily these processes will happen.

Additionally, microplastics can absorb pollutants in the environment and these have been used in various situations to mop up. Some studies have been done to show that if a small invertebrate ate some microplastics, the level of persistent organic chemicals in the animal will have reduced once the plastics have gone through. The problem is that they are a vector of pollution. They can attract, for example, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and transport them. Whether these chemicals absorb or desorb - or let go - of the pollutants is affected greatly by pH. It is a concern that in the gut where the pH is lower, this could promote the release of the toxins.

Further up the course, the particles going through a wastewater treatment plant interact with many pathogens. One study has shown that microplastics downstream from a wastewater treatment plant have more pathogens on them, which would be associated with that pathway.

I know this is very specific but I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. Dr. Mahon referred to leakage or emissions. They are hydrocarbon-based and, therefore, with regard to climate change, is plastic in general a negative for the ecosystem?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

I would be worried about ocean acidification and some interactions with the plastics.

I have a question for Dr. Lynch. He spoke about microplastics but this legislation does not deal with them.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

I spoke about microplastics as a broader grouping of primary and secondary microplastics whereas this Bill just deals with primary microplastics in one specific industry.

It deals with microbeads as opposed to microplastics.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

Microbeads are spherical but the classification here includes anything within a certain size range, so it is not just anything with a spherical shape, but any shape within that size range. In addition to microbeads, it could include anything flat or other different shapes in that size range.

Does this legislation go far enough? Microplastics come from the synthetic clothes that we wear.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

Exactly. These are secondary microplastics where one is dealing with a product that may have been a larger size at one stage and then breaks down through a particular process. If it is fibres from clothes, they lose these in the washing process and break down into smaller components.

It then gets into the ecosystem.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

Exactly. Those are secondary microplastics so they are not being directly introduced as a raw material. They are a larger plastic when they are being manufactured and used as a raw material. This legislation is not concerned with those types of plastics. That needs to be tackled on another day.

Where does the funding for the witnesses' research come from?

Dr. Róisín Nash

It comes from everywhere, including the EPA and the Marine Institute. The Department has provided funding. Anyone who is interested in the environment or questions related to our research is willing to fund this. Funding is allocated from a European pot, which Ireland puts money into. Horizon 2020 will have targets for microplastics. It is seen as one of the biggest pollutants coming on line and everyone wants to solve it. Significant research funding is available.

Is industry working with the witnesses to try to solve this problem?

Dr. Kevin Lynch

We have not approached industry about any of our research projects.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

I have had some collaborations with industry. Some have been fruitful. However, the biggest challenge is to get data from industry as, generally, individual companies do not welcome someone coming to sample for a potential pollutant. They may be worried about any consequences that would have. As a result, I have gone into storm water drains in industrial estates to see what is coming from them collectively and to try to intercept certain companies' drains because it is very difficult to engage with them.

There are also the local authorities in terms of filtration systems.

Do Ms Dean or Mr. Chave wish to respond to any of the questions?

Mr. John Chave

I can respond to Senator O'Sullivan's question about microplastics and microbeads. She is absolutely correct that the major source of this problem is secondary microplastics. There is a European process, as I think the committee is aware, which is looking at intentionally added microplastics across a range of industries, not just our industry. There is, therefore, a slightly broader process in hand at European level which we can talk about a little in the discussion if members so wish. However, I think my colleagues from GMIT would agree that intentionally added microplastics are only a small fraction of the problem and that the bigger problem is the secondary microplastics such as those resulting from tyre abrasion and so forth.

I alert Dr. Lynch to the fact that there are two different types of penalties under head 13. The first is the one to which he referred, while the second is a penalty "on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €3,000,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or both". Does Dr. Lynch have a copy of this?

Dr. Kevin Lynch

I do.

I thank the witnesses for attending. This is a very interesting topic. It is clearly quite a technical area and, as such, the committee and the Department were right initially to engage with Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and its researchers. That was a good move and I acknowledge the support of the Department in encouraging it. I acknowledge also the work we have seen in the witnesses' presentations, from UCD Earth Institute, the EPA, which has been involved in all this, and the marine and freshwater research centre in GMIT. I am conscious of what Ms Dean said about commercial activities and the European Single Market.

Perhaps all the witnesses could talk about the EU REACH regulation, which basically involves registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. The regulation has not fully come into effect yet. How then do we dovetail our legislation with the forthcoming regulation? Will the witnesses talk about the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA? It ultimately manages all the technical issues surrounding this whole issue. The witnesses might talk us through that issue a little. Ms Dean also mentioned REACH, and there was perhaps some suggestion that this all might be a little premature. I do not agree. When experts such as Dr. Kevin Lynch come before us and talk about the challenge that we now have microplastics in our fish and our food chain, that must ring an alarm bell for us. We have known about this for a long time. I also acknowledge the work of my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan. She raises this issue constantly in the Seanad, is an expert in this area and has driven this legislation in Seanad Éireann. What is the story with REACH? How does it dovetail with this legislation? We better be ready and it would be better to move this legislation on.

I would like the witnesses to talk about two other issues. What is their engagement with the local authorities on this research? The local authorities are licensing bodies and are responsible for monitoring various hospitals, for instance. In my local authority we had issues with the release of pathogens into the sewerage system. There are many breaches of these licences across the 31 local authorities, but this is the local authorities' mandate so they do regular sampling and reporting, for instance. I believe they do not report enough. There needs to be a greater focus on these drain and attenuation tanks, particularly in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and the hospital sector. There are huge concerns about pathogens coming into the water streams from the health and hospital sector, and alarm bells should be ringing there. I have seen some of this myself so I have a little knowledge of it. The witnesses might talk about this in the context of research. May I suggest, if they have not already done so, that they engage with some of the local authorities and look at their data? It is all about data. This is a science.

Have the witnesses had any experience in the course of their work with Teagasc? Teagasc, as they know, engages in outreach. Regarding grant schemes under EU farm payment schemes, etc., and environmental initiatives, we know there will be soil cores and soil boring. There is analysis of those.

The profiles of these cores show various pollutants in the soil. These are standard with regard to various EU-funded agricultural programmes and a lot of information could be gleaned from them. Alarm bells must be ringing now that we are told we have microbeads in the food chain. We must sit up and do something. I welcome the legislation. The more scientific and technical research and validation we have with regard to the legislation, the better.

I would particularly like to focus on the Irish Cosmetics, Detergents and Allied Products Association. How have the private sector and industry been engaging? Clearly, it is in their interests to do so as people are becoming much more environmentally aware. People are looking at the backs of products to see whether they contain microbeads. Many people are becoming very conscious of microbeads in the cosmetic and detergent industries, and in the agricultural and horticultural sector where we know microbeads are used in some fertilisers to assist in their distribution. These are challenges and I would like to hear from Ms Dean because I am always conscious of industry but we want responsible responses. It is not enough to say it will impact on profits. The environment is critical for this generation and future generations. I have long argued that people have become very conscious when purchasing of how a product impacts on the environment. I would like to know more about the European REACH process. I thank the witnesses for engaging with the committee.

Mr. John Chave

I will comment on the REACH process because it is an interesting and important question. Ireland is not the first country in the European Union to initiate legislation on microbeads. The UK has legislation, as do France and Sweden. Italy is implementing legislation and Denmark is planning legislation. This presents a problem because if various member states have various legislative measures, potentially we will have an issue with the EU Single Market. Something similar happened in the US with initiatives on microbeads at state level. At some point, the US federal government stated the measures were breaking up the US internal market and that a federal measure was required that would be common throughout the US market. There is a strong case on Single Market grounds for a European measure.

To give a little bit of history, there are two possibilities to address this at European level. We could have a regulation or directive that goes through the European Parliament in an ordinary legislative procedure or we could have the ECHA REACH process. Rightly and understandably, there has been a lot of concern, perfectly articulated by Senator Boyhan, about this problem and the need to address it, and not only on Single Market grounds because it is recognised that it is an environmental problem. The European Commission decided not to go along the ordinary legislative procedure route but to go through the REACH process.

Essentially, REACH is a system for managing chemicals. Within the REACH process, the European Chemicals Agency has the power and capacity to recommend to the European Commission that it restrict certain chemicals. This is the process we are going through. Why did it go down the REACH process and not the ordinary legislative procedure process? At the time, it was thought that REACH was slightly quicker. Sometimes the processes in Brussels, as anybody who has ever worked there knows, can take an awfully long time and there is a sense of urgency about this. This partly explains why the Irish Government wants to push forward the legislation.

The ECHA process was begun at the end of 2017. The speed element is relative because ECHA takes a little bit of time and there are several points to note about it. It is completely harmonised so it addresses the Single Market problem. This means whatever legislation Ireland chooses to adopt, and I fully appreciate the sense of urgency and the wish to push forward, will be subject to European legislation. Essentially, if the domestic legislation is in conflict with European legislation, then the European legislation will take precedence in the normal way of the Single Market.

That is not a controversial comment to make.

This is not likely to be completed until approximately 2021. It is difficult to say for sure when it will be finished. The ECHA secretariat had a year to present a dossier. It finished that on 11 January and published it on 30 January. Committee members can see the ECHA's initial work on its website. The second stage of the process must now take place, with the dossier to be considered by the committee for risk assessment, RAC, of the ECHA. One of the requirements for restriction processes is that a risk must be demonstrated - not necessarily a litter risk, but a toxic one. It is a slightly controversial part of the legislation.

There will also be a social and economic assessment under which the impact on industry will be considered, which members of this committee wish to discuss during this session. That process will take most of 2019. In 2020 or so, there will be a recommendation and, all things being equal, the process will be finished by around 2021. The Irish legislation will be subject to that.

Members need to bear in mind that the mandate of the ECHA goes slightly beyond what Ireland is considering. The agency covers intentionally added microbeads and microplastics. They are a small fraction of a much bigger problem, but the agency is considering the issue across a number of sectors as opposed to just ours.

Other European countries are pressing ahead with their legislation, and there is a certain amount of political pressure to do so. Legislation was recently tabled for debate in Portugal, but people there opted to wait until the ECHA had decided what it would do. It is understandable that Ireland might want to push ahead and not wait for the agency, but the take-home point from this is that, after 2021, it is overwhelmingly likely that there will be a restriction on microplastic in some form. It may be slightly broader in scope than this proposal, as it also addresses other sectors, and the Irish legislation would be subject to it.

That is my take on the ECHA. Other witnesses might wish to add or correct something if they disagree.

Senator Boyhan asked questions on other matters.

I asked about the synergies achieved in working with Teagasc and local authorities.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

We have some synergy as regards assessing microplastics in groundwater, which is difficult to do. Teagasc has some bore holes that it uses to measure phosphorous and nutrient pollution. We have a link with it but, because a high volume of water is needed, we must wait for an opportunity, for example, heavy rainfall.

In terms of the cores, we and our partners in UCD have the equipment for taking cores. We are specific about the number of replicates and where they are taken to get the best information, so we rather that this be carried out independently.

We have had some interactions with local authorities. In 2015, we were able to take samples from wastewater treatment plants and get some idea of what was coming in and going out. Now, however, we are subject to Irish Water approval. We have just completed an agreement that gives us permission to enter the wastewater treatment plant system. That is planned for the coming year of our three-year project, which started two years ago.

Is GMIT finding Irish Water co-operative or are slight restrictions being imposed? There will always be conflicts with Irish Water, as it is a service provider that has service-level agreements, SLAs, with local authorities and a national remit. What has GMIT's experience with Irish Water been in terms of this scientific work?

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

We have had a great deal of engagement with it.

We had to come to a restricted disclosure agreement, which would specify not necessarily the minutiae of samples but how the data derived from the sampling would be managed. It took a long time to agree that and it basically took two years. There were issues regarding vetoing of results. As academics, we need to know we have use of our results to publish for scientific advancement and also for the well-being of the environment and human health.

The process has been a bit restrictive, as we could not sample where we initially wanted to for various reasons that were stipulated. Examples included any treatment due an upgrade. I would have liked to have had some treatment plants representing an industrial input but we did not manage to gain permission to those. In the end, as it shortened the time in which we may have carried out the research, we had to keep it simple. We got permission to study three wastewater treatment plants. Ideally, we would have taken the samples ourselves but, unfortunately, that was not possible. Contamination is a big issue, such as with clothing fibres, for example.

I am alarmed by Dr. Mahon talking about the vetoing of results. That must be of concern to the committee with respect to this work. The examination could not be carried out by the witnesses, which must again be of concern. We may have to raise that with Irish Water. It would be helpful to have some more facts because when making a case, one must be armed with facts. I presume the witnesses keep a log of dates, entries and requests. This must be of some concern.

Dr. Mahon mentioned independence. Teagasc does soil sampling bores all over the country and it is a very reputable organisation. It has been tied to stringent guidelines by the EU. There may, therefore, be a case there for greater synergies rather than duplication. It is clearly in the body's interest and this can be policed right across the agricultural sector. There may not need to be replication and there could be national impact. Water tables and soils are important for accurate reading.

She can correct me if I am wrong in my interpretation but is Dr. Mahon saying that in certain cases with Irish Water, there has been talk of vetoing results? That must be of concern when it comes to accuracy and uniformity of research. It would be helpful to the committee if the witnesses had further details and was in the position to make them available. We would like to learn more about that.

Dr. Anne Marie Mahon

As I said, we had long discussions and we came to an agreement where we are satisfied we can utilise the data in a way that we can communicate with the scientific community and Government bodies what are the results. It took a long time to get to that point. We engage with Teagasc but we have very specific questions that we want to answer. One concerns sewage sludge and we want to go to fields where there has been spreading of slurry. Unfortunately, it was not doing any sampling on those sites because it wanted to avoid human impact. It just wanted to look at nutrients, etc.

Dr. Róisín Nash

In case there is any misunderstanding regarding Irish Water and universities, this was the first research project with which it engaged. That probably explains in part the length of time involved. It was not unique to GMIT. When Irish Water put together what it would sign off on and what would be allowed, it could not just refer to GMIT. All the colleges had to go through their legal departments. It was unfortunate that ours was a three-year project and we are only now getting into that towards the end. The matter is multifaceted.

As Dr. Anne Marie Mahon mentioned, we will be looking at taking Teagasc on board when we are doing more on our study. At present we are trying to answer research questions and then we will test them in the field. It would be brilliant to bring Teagasc on board and look at where it is sampling and not replicate it to see whether we could add more information to it.

On the role of local authorities and the industry, in all of our research projects we have an outreach element and try to involve the local authorities and the industry in any workshop or any information we produce and obtain information from them. We would like to open a two-way dialogue.

As regards the funding Senator Boyhan mentioned, we have not had a research question that would tie in with the questions Teagasc also needs to answer. However, I believe this will happen down the line and that there will be more interaction with the industry.

We need to answer the questions the Senator has put to us before we ask industry to come on board and answer more questions.

Mr. John Chave

I will comment on Senator Boyhan's questions about the industry. He is quite right to express the view that consumers are becoming more environmentally aware. Of course, the industry needs to responds to this. I will take the opportunity to talk a little about the recommendation and the action to which Ms Siobhan Dean, director of Irish Cosmetics, Detergents and Allied Products Association, referred to in her statement.

In 2012 and some cases a little earlier than that, some companies started to phase out plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing, which is for what they were mainly used in cosmetics and personal care products. In 2015 we in Cosmetics Europe encouraged our membership to phase out plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing and made the voluntary recommendation that Ms Dean read in her statement, recognising, of course, that this was an issue on which people expected us to act as a responsible industry. It is not enough for us in Brussels to simply put some words on a page and ask our membership to go out and think about it. We undertook to follow up to find out whether it was the case that the industry was indeed phasing out plastic microbeads. We conducted a survey in 2016, at which point we found that around 80% of plastic microbeads had been phased out. When Cosmetics Europe made its recommendation, it set a timeframe up to 2020, but there was a kickback. People said it was very nice that the industry had done this, but why would it take it so long to implement it. The reason Cosmetics Europe adopted that fairly long timeframe was that it was worried that it would be more difficult for smaller companies that were putting microbeads into their products to reformulate in time.

As part of the European Chemicals Agency, ECHA, process, Cosmetics Europe is required, like other industry sectors, to make submissions on the social and economic impacts which, of course, are important and something the committee needs to consider. Cosmetics Europe conducted an additional survey and that is where the rather precise figure of 97.6% came up. Let me reiterate that, according to the Cosmetics Europe survey, 97.6% of plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing have disappeared from the European market. Why can Cosmetics Europe be so precise about this figure? We represent more than 90% of the companies involved in the European sector and nearly all of the multinationals and, through associations such as the Irish Cosmetics, Detergents and Allied Products Association and the European associations, smaller companies too. Cosmetics Europe conducted a massive survey and surveyed half of the entire market, which is pretty statistically sound. The margin for error is less than 1%, compared to that in opinion polls where it is plus or minus 3%. Cosmetics Europe can be confident, therefore, that most of the plastic microbeads used for exfoliating and cleansing have been removed and that if they have not already been removed, certainly by 2020 they will have more or less disappeared from the European market.

Members may have questions about the companies that are not members of Cosmetics Europe and not covered by its recommendation, or concerns about imports from manufacturers outside the European market. These concerns are fully understandable, but the committee needs to be aware that plastic microbeads for exfoliating and cleansing are, to a significant extent, not the real problem. The problem environmentally is much more with secondary microplastics, tyre abrasions and other such issues raised by GMIT. In a nutshell, the Senator is absolutely correct - the industry had to respond and consumers are now more environmentally aware.

We did respond. We have made very significant progress in phasing out plastic microbeads.

Let us take a step back from the very technical stuff for a second. It is important for us to reassert at a very basic level why this committee has spent so much time on this issue, partly at the request of Senator Grace O'Sullivan and Deputy Sherlock at earlier stages and now at the request of the Minister. We are all concerned as a result of our growing knowledge of the impact of plastics in general on our environment, whether first or second generation microplastics or single-use plastics. It is becoming a bigger part of our policy debate, and that is a good thing. The committee is unanimous in taking the view that these things are bad for our environment and that we need to have stronger regulatory mechanisms to reduce the number of them. It is also important, however, that we do not have this debate in isolation. I make these points partly with regard to the debate as to whether we should wait for the European Union process. What has been going on in the European Union and European Commission in recent years with regard not only to microbeads but also to single-use plastics has involved quite a significant battle between industry and environmentalists with regard to how this enormous threat should be dealt with. It is a threat and we need to be honest about that.

To put this conversation in context, the corporate budget for lobbying on the EU's position on single-use plastics is between €1.5 million and €1.75 million. That is the amount of money industry is spending to advocate for what it wants to see, as it is perfectly entitled to do. The general approach has been to favour voluntary agreements over statutory enforcement. These agreements are often weaker than those we are discussing here, in a limited sense. There are also far lower levels of transparency in the policymaking processes of many member states. One of the reasons we are now seeing individual member states pushing ahead and saying that they are not waiting any more is because it has been taking so long to progress some of this at European Union level. Clearly, it would be better if there was a single agreement at EU level, but it is highly likely that, when and if that agreement comes, it will give us a floor above which individual member states may decide to have higher levels of environmental standards. My view is certainly that this would be a good thing. I appreciate that we are talking about companies, jobs, and profits to reinvest in the economy, but we are also talking about our ecosystem and its future viability. If I am ever asked to make a choice between adhering to Single Market principles or doing something good for the environment, I intuitively favour the latter, even if I do not know the finer scientific details with regard to where I rest on the question.

I will get back to the legislation because I have a couple of specific questions for everybody and I am genuinely interested to hear people's views. Head 4 of the Bill deals with exceptions. We had an interesting conversation with the officials when we were looking at the exceptions. Some of the exceptions seem to be eminently sensible, such as products for medical or veterinary use and so on, but there was one at which I was surprised. The heads of the Bill refer to "creams, lotions or gels containing plastic microbeads designed, manufactured and sold solely for the purposes of application to the surface of a person’s skin to protect it from the harmful effects of solar ultraviolet radiation". When we questioned the officials, they said that there are no products available on the Irish market that fulfil that function and which contain microbeads or microplastics. It seemed odd that this would be included in the exceptions. As microbeads do not add anything to the medical value of sun tan lotions and are purely cosmetic, it seems odd that we would open it up or create an incentive for people to add them to such products. I would like the views of both the industry representatives and the scientists here on that exception. Do they have any other comments on the exceptions generally? Most of them seem sensible but that one stood out as a little bit odd.

Head 13 deals with the penalties. The Chairman is right that there are a number of penalties, including a low-level, class A fine of up to €5,000 and up to six months' imprisonment. The penalty on court indictment is a fine of up to €3 million and up to two years' imprisonment. I presume the witnesses' concern is that the first one is likely to be used more often in respect of breaches. Are they saying that the summary penalty is too low? Are there examples of other penalties at a summary level, rather than involving going to court, that are at a higher level? Will the witnesses elaborate on that? It is important that there is a third sanction, which is that individual members of a board of directors can be held accountable. This is a power the EPA has in enforcing waste management regulations and so on.

If the witnesses have specific concerns about that, I would be interested in hearing them.

I have a query about Ms Dean's reference to the fact that European industry is on track to achieve a 100% phasing out of plastic microbeads by 2020. This point has been well made. She seemed to suggest in the final paragraph of her presentation that she is concerned that the Bill, as drafted, will remove many products from the Irish market until those products are reformulated. She pointed out that: "The business and consumer impacts in the general scheme, however, do not take this into account." On the one hand, she seems to be saying that by 2020, which is around the time that this legislation, if passed, will be fully enacted and imposed on Irish industry, there will have been a 100% withdrawal of microplastics or microbeads from the products in which her industry is involved. On the other hand, she seems to be saying that she still has concerns. Am I misunderstanding what she is saying? Are there certain categories of products which are still being produced or sold in the Irish market that will not be included in the 100% phasing out of microbeads? Given that this legislation, if passed, will not come into effect until next year, what is the nature of Ms Dean's concern? I want to understand her position fully.

The Deputy has asked three questions I was going to ask. I would like to tag on another question or two. Would Ms Dean like to mention any aspects of the Bill that go too far, or do not go far enough, in her opinion? Does she believe there is anything missing from it? I hear what she is saying about other countries coming forward with their own legislation. I think we are going slightly further than other countries. I would like to get Ms Dean's opinion on whether we are going far enough. I would also like her to elaborate on the products in the Irish market that will have to be reformulated. How many products and what kinds of products are we talking about?

I have a final question. I take the point that everyone has made about second-generation microplastics. I do not think anyone is disputing that. Have any of the other EU member states that have started to look at this issue introduced legislation or regulations? If so, could those of us who are interested in this matter be pointed in the direction of those measures? I know this aspect of the matter was raised by Senator Grace O'Sullivan recently. I would like to put a similar question to the industry representatives who are in attendance. Have their counterparts in other areas of business made any attempts to introduce voluntary agreements or voluntary regimes in respect of second-generation materials, or is it only the first generation that has received this kind of attention?

Ms Siobhán Dean

I will begin by answering the questions that have been asked about the specifics of the Bill. While those of us in the industry are very supportive of this legislation from an environmental impact perspective, we have some concerns about the definition. This is something we have highlighted with the Department. The point I would like to make about the definition of a microbead used in the text - "synthetic water-insoluble polymer" - is that all plastics are polymers but not all polymers are plastics. Therefore, the definition needs to be refined and aligned with other legislation, including that in the UK and pending legislation in Northern Ireland. We have not done any research on the impact on products of the proposed definition that is used in the general scheme. We are saying that the definition of microbead and the scope of that definition should be refined.

Many of the cosmetics companies here are SMEs. When we surveyed those companies in 2015, they said they were not adding any microbeads into their products anyway. We have no evidence at this stage that they have been introduced into Irish products. Any international companies that have said they have microbeads in their products are phasing them out. The microbeads covered by our definition of microbead are being phased out 100%, but that is not the case if microbeads are defined as they are in the existing proposed legislation.

It is very important for us to understand whether Ms Dean is concerned that categories of products which are not included in the phasing out will be caught by this legislation.

Ms Siobhán Dean

A number of products would be possibly-----

Ms Siobhán Dean

It is possible that detergents like opacifiers and encapsulated fragrances could be captured in this legislation. It is also possible that they will be captured anyway in the European Chemicals Agency's REACH process. At the moment, they will be captured by the proposed definition. As there will be no transition period, companies will need to reformulate those products. This means that if a ban comes in, they will be taken off the market. It is possible that companies will need to be given a period of time to reformulate such products. The general scheme does not include a statement on the impact on industry and on products of the existing definition being proposed.

Mr. John Chave

Ms Dean has put it perfectly. All plastics are not polymers and vice versa, and sometimes a lack of precision in the definitions can lead to a much broader scope of regulation than was even intended. This is why we were concerned about the additional omission of the word "plastic" because without that a range of polymer materials, which most people do not regard as plastic, is roped in.

For the purposes of clarity for those of us who are not scientists, will Mr. Chave give examples of some everyday non-plastic polymers? This is so we are clear on what we are talking about.

Mr. John Chave

The Deputy is asking the wrong person. The members have raised the issue of transparency and I will address that. I will release to the committee the Cosmetics Europe submission to the ECHA from when we first started to engage with the agency That submission contains some detailed analyses of polymer materials that we consider to be plastic and some we do not. There is also some detail around the questions on the formulations. I agree that it is important to be transparent, and we, in the industry, lobbied on the single-use plastic directive. That submission might help the committee address those issues. Some polymers, for example, are liquid or solid in form depending on the stage of the process they are at. Liquid polymers are generally not considered as problematic in this context as the solid polymers. We regard the plastic polymers as being the centre of the issue.

I turn to the original question on the scope and what would be covered. One needs to think about this in terms of the definition and the function. Our voluntary recommendation talked about exfoliating and cleansing functions. There is a small volume of microbeads in rinse-off products, which are not necessarily used for exfoliating and cleansing. The quantity is small and, as a fraction of the overall microplastic problem, it is infinitesimally small. Nonetheless, if one uses the definition without limiting the regulation to exfoliating and cleansing, one will capture microbeads that are in rinse-off products, which are not captured in the US legislation or the current French legislation. They are, however, captured in the UK legislation. I urge the committee to consider the UK legislation as a model. Aligning with the UK legislation makes a degree of economic sense because the UK is currently a major trading partner, although that is turning into a particularly unpleasant subject.

How many days are left?

Mr. John Chave

One can, therefore, protect the trade element. There is no doubt about it, if Ireland goes out on a limb, it will cause problems in trade within the EU and with the US and so on. Ireland probably does not want to do that. The UK definition is broader than the US definition and all of the other definitions currently in place in the Union. The UK approach is something the industry can live with. While there would probably need to be a lot of reformulation, we will just take that on the chin and do it. Beyond that one can get into problems, and not just with trade. There would also be the sheer cost of having to reformulate thousands and thousands of products. When I release our ECHA submission to the committee, the members will see an analysis of different scenarios in which polymers could be restricted - not just microplastics - and what that would mean for reformulations and the impacts on industry.

In a nutshell, I urge the committee to align with the UK for the time being. The UK approach goes slightly beyond what other jurisdictions are doing in the EU. It means there would need to be some reformulation, but I believe that the industry could probably live with that. Beyond that one is likely to get into problems.

Would Dr. Nash like to come in?

Dr. Róisín Nash

Could I put a question to Mr. Chave?

Mr. John Chave

Only if it is not difficult.

Dr. Róisín Nash

It is not. Mr. Chave referred to the ECHA legislation that is going to come in. He is the most knowledgeable person here on that. The Irish legislation is a step towards that. Are we taking a step back if we align ourselves with the UK definition of microplastic and introduce that in our legislation? Will we still have to take a step forward in 2021 to get to where the Irish legislation is currently?

Mr. John Chave

I will give the committee a frank answer to that question. The reason I believe Ireland should align with the UK legislation at a maximum is that it would preserve the trade position. When the ECHA restriction is in place, the position with regard to those trade elements inside the European Union is that all the bets are off because that is the new standard. The way ECHA is going is frankly quite radical if we look at the additional proposals from the agency. These are likely to go beyond the ECHA legislation. I will offer one example. Committee members may be aware of a polymer called styrene-acrylic coating, which is used to pacify some liquids. When I buy a shampoo, the liquid is not clear because there is material in it to make it not clear - to make it opaque. Hence, we use the term "to pacify". I am not a polymer scientist but such people can have a legitimate debate about whether that material actually meets the definition of plastic and is thus problematic in this context. It is highly likely that ECHA will maintain that it is and will regulate the material. I may be wrong but I think that is likely. If so, that would go beyond the UK legislation because it does not deal with that particular issue. While the Department may go forward and put into place legislation in Ireland, it is quite possible that in some, but not all, respects what comes out of the ECHA process may go beyond that in two ways. The first is that it will cover more sectors whereas the Department is limiting the sectors in this legislation. The second is that it may address more materials than those currently covered in the national legislation. Committee members should not get the impression that ECHA is a big friend of industry in this context, because it is not.

Do the witnesses have any thoughts on exceptions?

Dr. Róisín Nash

I presume there is a product on the market to counter solar ultraviolet radiation and that is why the exemption was in there. I have not explored that. Maybe there is a product that we currently do not have. Is there such a product?

It was an interesting exchange. The officials said that they had gone out to see if that was the case and they found that there were none. However, there is a policy of encouraging people to use suntan lotion. If a product were to become available, the officials did not want the legislation to act as a disincentive to using it. Those were the general thoughts about it.

Is the Deputy saying that we do not use microbeads because of the medical products here?

The discussion was about suntan lotions.

Mr. John Chave

The Deputy's statement that microplastic does not have any benefit for some of those things is not strictly true for suntan lotions. I imagine we would all accept that suntan lotions have an increasingly important health benefit. We can talk about whether certain polymers meet certain definitions of plastic – I am not qualified to comment on that – but they enhance ultraviolet quality. It is not entirely true to hold that polymers put in cosmetic products are only there for pizazz. They are not; they perform important functions not only for ultraviolet filters but across the board.

If that were the case, then those products would be covered by the medical exemption because they serve a medical purpose.

Mr. John Chave

Is a suntan cream for medical purpose?

Yes, it stops people getting cancer.

Mr. John Chave

Yes, but it depends a little on how we understand that. If a person slaps on some ultraviolet filter when he goes to the beach, he does not reckon he is undergoing some sort of medical treatment. We can argue about where-----

I imagine parents would disagree when they are putting suntan lotion on their children, but I take the point.

Mr. John Chave

It is not absolutely crystal clear.

Dr. Kevin Lynch

It may leave something of a loophole whereby products that do not currently have sun protection factor might suddenly get it to keep the microbeads. I am simply playing Devil's advocate.

Mr. John Chave

That is probably the wrong way around. The key ingredient for an ultraviolet filter is the ultraviolet filter.

European UV filter technology is the best in the world, but it is unlikely that we would put the cart before the horse in that context.

Dr. Róisín Nash

Should we be encouraging producers at design stage to consider alternatives, rather than leaving the loophole? I am aware of its benefits, but should we be asking them at design stage to look forward to see what the options are?

Mr. John Chave

The interesting thing about the microbeads phase-out was there were natural alternatives such as kernels and cellular lotions. Given what my colleagues said about rising environmental awareness, I think that message is well taken, not only in our industry but also in many others. We need to think about alternatives and so forth.

It is an exceptionally complex issue.

Mr. John Chave

It is complex.

Are the delegates carrying out research into the ecotoxicology aspect and the potential of these plastics to attract other chemicals? We have talked very much about the environmental impact, but we have not gone into the health impact of these particles in different products. In her presentation Ms Dean spoke about the industry taking voluntary action, which is to be welcomed, but in product design and innovation is it considering the health impact of plastics not only on humans but also environmentally?

Ms Siobhán Dean

In the Irish context we are not engaged in researching the health impact. Many of the companies involved in the cosmetics and detergents industries are international. The companies involved in the manufacture of cosmetics and detergents here are SMEs and would not have the scope to engage in such research, but that is not to say that in the future there will not be some opportunities to do so.

Mr. John Chave

It is worth pointing out that the cosmetics industry is very tightly regulated in Europe. We have the most sophisticated regulation of our industry on the globe. Manufacturers are obliged to ensure the safety of their products when they put them on the market. That is something they cannot ignore. I think our colleagues would agree that the idea of toxicity in this context is quite controversial because it is being considered by the ECHA as it is part of its mission. While we can see the issue of marine litter, the question of toxicity is more complex. If the committee is interested in the subject, I encourage it to keep an eye on the analysis going through the ECHA which is undertaking a systematic review of all of the evidence in that space. It is something in which our colleagues in GMIT will be taking a strong interest, too.

Do the delegates have further comments to add?

Dr. Kevin Lynch

There are industry talks about being self-regulating and phasing out 75%, but it would be self-surveyed and, as far as I am aware, there would be no independent research to back it up. It is a good way in which to be moving, but what we really need is leadership to do something in this space to tackle plastic pollution. The Bill may be a first step to show the public that the Oireachtas has concerns and that at least something concrete is being done, rather than waiting for future processes that might not be ready until 2021.

Mr. John Chave

Dr. Lynch says the industry is self-surveying, but many non-governmental organisations are very concerned about this issue and have had our industry under their spotlight for a very long time and no one has questioned that the phase-out has happened. People might say it was an industry survey, etc. but no one has come up with any reasonable evidence to show that we have not done it.

I would like to respond to the second point which was important. I sometimes worry a little about the kind of legislation there is in place in Ireland. Some think that because Ireland has legislated for cosmetics, it has dealt with microplastics. I suggest it has not even begun to deal with microplastics by legislating for cosmetics. This problem is much bigger than the cosmetics and personal care industry which is an extremely small part of it and getting smaller. To go back to a previous question, ours is the only industry that has taken voluntary action in this space. I do not know of any other that has done so. The broader question of how industry works to address big issues such as plastic marine litter will need to be addressed, regardless of whether this legislation goes ahead. That is a much bigger project. I do not mean to cast aspersions on what the committee is doing, which I understand.

I want to make it clear that this is not the only Bill of this kind that is being advanced. This is not the only debate about plastics that the Houses are having. We are all very clear on the fact that this legislation is a small piece of a larger approach. As it is the first Bill in this sphere, it sets the tone. If it is passed with the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, it will demonstrate that the country is willing to show leadership on this and all of the other issues. We are equally as focused on the big issue of single-use plastics which does not fall within the remit of this committee but within that of another. This is one of the few areas of the debate in which we can get involved. It is an indication of where we want to go. Mr. Chave should not worry because we will come back for more after this.

Mr. John Chave

I am reassured.

I thank all of the delegates for attending. A couple of them have been here a few times now. I appreciate the time they have taken to come and inform us on this fascinating report. I have found it refreshing not to talk about housing for one meeting. At our next meeting, at 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, we will receive an update on all developments in the water sector.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.55 p.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 February 2019.