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EU announces plan to restrict plastic microbeads and oxo-degradable plastics

Today, the 16th January 2018, the EU Commission released its long-expected Plastics Strategy. The Strategy includes an announcement that the Commission has started the process to ban both intentionally added microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics. Both these bans will be implemented as Restrictions under the EU’s main chemicals law REACH.

The Commission also announced a a Communication with options for addressing the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation.

Plastic pollution & chemicals

Plastic has infiltrated every part of our lives and has become a major pollution issue – see the Environmental European Bureau’s video on plastic problems and policy solutions. For example, researchers found that 72% of European countries’ tap water tested contained plastic fibres. Microplastics – tiny pieces of plastics below 5mm in size – are threatening wildlife, the environment and potentially human health. These plastic particles can act like sponges, absorbing and concentrating the hazardous chemicals present in the environment.

Restriction of oxo degradable plastics and microplastics

Today’s communication – “A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy”  – includes a list of EU measures to implement this strategy. This list includes two proposed REACH Restrictions:

  • start the process to restrict the intentional addition of microplastics to products via REACH
  • start the process to restrict the use of oxo-plastics via REACH

CHEM Trust supports these restrictions, and last year we supported a statement with over 150 other organisations calling for a ban on oxo-degradable plastic packaging. The European Chemicals Agency ECHA has put up a page outlining the process for these proposed restrictions.

The strategy also announces actions to reduce single-use plastics. It is interesting to note that Iceland, a UK supermarket, today committed to eliminate or drastically reduce plastic packaging of all its Iceland products by the end of 2023.

CHEM Trust’s Executive Director, Dr Michael Warhurst said:

“It is good news that the Commission is proposing to ban the use of intentionally produced microplastics, and that it is also developing a ban on oxo-degradable plastics. Both of these ‘innovations’ are contributing towards plastic pollution around the world.

Reducing plastic single-use packaging is also an important policy priority. However, a shift from plastic to paper food packaging highlights the poor state of the EU’s regulation of chemicals in food contact paper and card. The Commission’s DG Health are starting a long-awaited review of these laws this year, and they must accelerate action in this neglected area of regulation”

CHEM Trust has been highlighting the lack of adequate regulation of the use of chemicals in paper and board food contact materials since July 2014. The Commission has recently started the process to evaluate these laws, and we recently commented on the Commission’s road map for this evaluation.

Chemicals and the circular economy

The new Plastics Strategy also aims to address the issue of chemicals in recycled plastics in general by measures to “Improve the traceability of chemicals and address the issue of legacy substances in recycled streams” and for recycled plastics in food contact materials by a “better characterisation of contaminants” and the “introduction of a monitoring system”. As part of the former, the Commission today published a Communication with “options to address the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation”.

CHEM Trust has promoting the need for a non-toxic circular economy for some years, for example see our presentation “The need for a clean circle given to the European Commission’s plastics conference in September 2017.