Tonnes and tonnes of microplastics
Overall, around 145,000 tonnes of microplastics are estimated to be used in the EU each year. And 42,000 tonnes of these microplastics end up in the environment from products intentionally containing them. The largest contribution with up to 16,000 tonnes is made by granules from artificial turf pitches. In addition, the release of unintentionally formed microplastics is estimated to be around 176,000 tonnes a year to the European surface waters.
It is obvious that this pollution needs to be drastically reduced, even without pointing to the health risks.
“Synthetic polymer micro-particles” are pieces of plastics smaller than 5 mm (and fibre-like below 15 mm).
Microplastics can be intentionally added to products for specific purposes, such as micro-beads in cosmetics. And they can be formed unintentionally when larger pieces of plastic, such as synthetic clothing, wear out.
If not properly disposed of or recycled, they pollute the environment where they stay ‘forever’.
Concerns about microplastics
The presence of microplastics, which are insoluble in water, degrade very slowly and can be easily ingested by living organisms, raises concerns about their overall impact on the environment and possibly on human health.
Microplastics accumulate in animals, and are consequently also consumed as food by humans. They have been found in marine, food, freshwater, and drinking water. They permanently pollute our ecosystems and food chains.
Exposure to microplastics has been linked to a range of negative effects on living organisms.
Several EU Member States have already banned the intentional use of microplastics in certain consumer products.
Regulation (EU) 2023/2055
The European Commission published the restriction on microplastics at the end of September 2023. This decision is the outcome of a scientific assessment started in 2017 by ECHA, the European Chemical Agency. The assessment was limited to microplastics that are intentionally added to products. ECHA proposed a wide-ranging restriction intention and organised a consultation that received almost 500 comments. The final proposal was published one year before the restriction of intentionally added microplastics was adopted and added as new entry #78 to Annex XVII of the EU REACH Regulation.
The Amending Regulation applies from October 17, 2023 only to the first item of the scope. This concerns, for example, intentionally added abrasive micro-beads in cosmetics or detergents and loose glitter. For other products containing microplastics, the sales ban will apply a few years later to give manufacturers the time to reformulate and use alternatives. Then, however, there may be an obligation to label those products during the transition period with a statement: “This product contains microplastics.”
The following products (not exhaustive) will be affected by the restrictions: cosmetics, fragrances, detergents, fabric softeners, cleaning products, medical devices, fertilisers, plant protection products, biocides, paints and the soft infill material on artificial turf sports pitches.
Degradable and soluble plastics
It is appropriate to exclude natural, degradable and soluble plastics as they do not contribute to the risk.
For this purpose Appendix 15 provides the rules on proving degradability and Appendix 16 lays down the permitted test methods and conditions for proving solubility.
The ban of glitter
Not all glitter is banned per October 2023, but it caused was confusion. The European Commission provided further extensive explanation on the differences between loose, trapped and affixed glitter. Briefly summarised as follows:
- Loose glitter is banned as of 17 October 2023.
- Trapped glitter, such as glitter glue, paints, inks and contained glitter as in snow globes are allowed.
- Affixed glitter that detached during normal use, such as decorative glittered Christmas decorations and party hats, is banned as of 17 October 2023.
Want to know more?
More information can be found in the ‘hot topics’ section on microplastics from ECHA, the European Chemical Agency.The European Commission published a press release plus a Q-and-A on restricted, intentionally added microplastics.