Guidance and information for producers and suppliers of products containing microbeads (small plastic particles 5 millimeters or smaller) to comply with the Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019.

Microbeads are defined in Irish law as plastic particles 5 millimeters or smaller, that are not water soluble and that are intentionally added to personal care products. Microbeads are usually of spherical shape.

  • Microbeads are commonly used in exfoliating products and toothpaste; they are used in household and industrial cleaning products and can also be found in medicinal products and sunscreen.
  • The term ‘Microplastic’ is not consistently defined, but is typically considered to refer to small, solid plastic particles of various shapes and diameters. The term is generally used in describing the wider prevalence of plastic particles, both intentionally and unintentionally generated in the environment. The Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019 is the first piece of legislation regulating microplastics in Ireland. Additional legislation is currently being enacted.
  • The cosmetics industry often limits the use of ‘microplastic or microbeads’ to solid plastic particles that have certain useful / beneficial functions such as scrubbing, peeling or rinse-off products. Some types of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics products contain visible and solid microbeads of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon.
  • Microbeads and microplastics are persistent in the environment if released, as they are very resistant to biodegradation.

What is the environmental issue with microbeads?

Microbeads have a damaging effect on the environment in land, rivers, oceans, and marine ecosystems:

  • Aquatic animals may ingest microbeads as food.
  • When they're washed down the drain, they are undetected and unfiltered by sewage treatment plants which are unable to filter out such minute items.
  • They are passed along the marine food chain and, since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, we may also eat these plastic particles.
  • Plastic is very persistent and, once microbeads and microplastics enter the riverine or marine environment, they are effectively impossible to remove. The fact that they do not biodegrade, coupled with further accumulation over time, could lead to future impacts on the aquatic environment as their quantity builds up.

Plastic microbeads make up a small fraction of the overall microplastic problem (some models suggest maybe 3% of microplastic inputs into the marine environment). However, they are a readymade microplastic that is virtually impossible to remove from the environment once they are in it.

Plastic microbeads are added to products for reasons of visual appearance, exfoliating, cleaning or abrasive scouring purposes, or as bulking agents, to products including cosmetics, personal care treatment products, detergents, and abrasive cleaning agents. Plastic microbeads are also used in industrial settings (e.g. oil and gas exploration, automotive moulding, textile printing and plastic blasting at shipyards), for anti-slip and anti-blocking applications, as well as in medical applications.

Investment in improving wastewater treatment systems is ongoing and the capability to capture microplastics increases. However, even where they are effectively captured by wastewater treatment, there are concerns about microplastic concentrations in retained sludge and what happens to them on the disposal of that sludge. Most of this sludge is spread on agricultural land as fertiliser. Sludge contaminated with microplastics would lead to contamination of agricultural land it is spread on and may lead to contamination of groundwater.

The most effective solution to preventing microplastic pollution is to tackle it at source. This means stemming the flow of primary microplastics, and plastics in general, entering the marine environment in the first place.


Legal obligations

The Microbeads (Prohibition) Act, 2019 regulates the placing on the market of products containing microbeads in Ireland. The Act sets out the rules and the legal obligations for anyone who makes, imports, or sells products containing microbeads in Ireland.

  • The Act prohibits the placing of a cosmetic product or a cleaning product on the market that is water soluble and contains microbeads in excess of the permitted concentration (0.01% by weight).
  • It also prohibits the disposal of such substances containing microbeads to waters (inland or marine), drains and WWTPs (municipal or domestic). The Act exempts medicinal products, sun-screening products, products for the purpose of education or research, and products in transit through the state.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is the competent authority to implement the Act and to ensure that it is being enforced and complied with. with the support of Customs and Excise Officers of the Revenue Commissioners and An Garda Síochána as necessary.
  • The Act provides the Agency with the authority to carry out enforcement functions such as the inspection of premises and the prosecution of any offences committed under the Act.

‘Placing on the market’ is defined as to:

  • Sell;
  • Offer or expose for sale;
  • Advertise or invite an offer to purchase;
  • Distribute free of charge;
  • Import or export, or
  • Supply for any of those purposes, whether or not for profit

Relevant legislation:

  • The Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019
  • EU Commission Regulation concerning REACH as regards synthetic polymer microparticles



Users of products containing microbeads

A “microbead user” is any person or organisation that places products with microbeads on the market in Ireland on a professional basis. This includes manufacturers of microbeads or anyone who imports products with microbeads by whatever means. If you are a producer of a product that contains microbeads you must follow the EPA guidance for users and producers of products that contain microbeads. Producers and suppliers of products containing microbeads have certain duties which include the duty of care when handling environmentally damaging items, the correct disposal and waste management of products that contain microbeads, identifying applicable standards for such products.


The prohibition on microbeads does not apply to:

Certain types of organisations like universities or scientific laboratories can apply for approval for certain activities with the EPA may be approved by the EPA if the Agency is satisfied that the organisation will carry out activities such as:

  • Engage in scientific research in the area of microbeads or microplastics;
  • Carry out the scientific examination of substances that contain microbeads or that could contain microplastics.

If you wish to apply to be an approved body, please email the Agency at microbeads@epa.ie, referencing the above criteria and attaching documentary evidence.


The Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019 nominates the EPA as the Competent Authority responsible for enforcement of the Act.

Enforcement of the Act will be carried out through engagement with stakeholders, market surveillance, site visits, testing and requests for technical information.

In Ireland, the EPA is responsible for making sure that European law is implemented and properly enforced.  Certain responsibilities have also been given to the following organisations to assist the EPA:

  • The Revenue Commissioners (Customs Division)
  • An Garda Síochána

The Agency may take summary proceedings for any offence under the Act and provides that the costs and expenses of the Agency can be recovered where a prosecution is successful.

A person guilty of an offence under the Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019 will be liable to:

  • On summary conviction, to a class A fine (a fine up to €5,000) or imprisonment or both.
  • On conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €3,000,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.
  • A person guilty of an offence under subsection 5 of section 5 of the Act shall be liable on summary conviction to, a class A fine or imprisonment or both for a term not exceeding 12 months or both.

Lodge a query with the EPA

If you have a query about microbeads or about any of this information, please contact us.

If you find a product that you believe or suspect to contain microbeads, please let us know and we will investigate the matter.  Send your query or complaint about microbeads in a product to microbeads@epa.ie

Useful sources of information

Information relating to the Microbeads Prohibition Act 2019 Microbeads (Prohibition) Act 2019 – No. 52 of 2019 – Houses of the Oireachtas

Learn more about microbeads and compliance see Q&A Restriction to intentionally added microplastics (europa.eu).

EU Commission Regulation for REACH as regards to synthetic polymer microparticles

Find out more about microbeads and microplastics across the EU on the website of the European Commission



Environmental Protection Agency

Regional Inspectorate


County Cork

P31 VX59

email: microbeads@epa.ie