EU Takes a Stand Against Plastic Pollution by Banning Intentionally Added Microplastics.
On 25th September the EU adopted a restriction on microplastics that are intentionally added to products. The restriction intends to prevent half a million tonnes of microplastics from entering the environment over the next 20 years.
Microplastics are small fragments of plastics that are under five millimetres in size, do not dissolve in water, and are resistant to breaking down in the environment. This lack of ability to break down means they can persist and accumulate in the environment. It also means they can travel long distances and have been found in remote areas of the world, such as the Arctic Ocean.
The restriction will apply to microplastics that are deliberately added to products, such as artificial sport surfaces, cosmetics, toys, and detergents. It won’t apply to products used at industrial sites, or products that do not release microplastics during use, however for these uses manufacturers will have to provide instructions on how to prevent microplastic release.
A variety of chemical additives can be found in microplastics, some of which are known to be hazardous to people and nature. For example, certain chemicals in plastics and microplastics can interfere with the normal functioning of the hormone system.
Studies have also shown that microplastics can absorb harmful persistent chemicals from the environment (e.g. PCBs, flame retardants, and dioxins), which can be particularly problematic when they enter marine environments. When ingested by marine wildlife, the animal is exposed to both the chemicals making up the microplastics, as well as the chemicals that may have adhered to the surface of the microplastics.
People are also exposed to microplastics. One route is via food and drink as microplastics have been shown to migrate from plastic food contact materials (e.g. plastic food packaging or drink cans). Microplastics have been recorded in many parts of the human body including in semen, lungs, the placenta, breast milk, blood and the heart.
CHEM Trust has been calling for this restriction for many years and have signed several joint statements to policy makers asking for microplastic pollution to be addressed. We responded to the initial call for evidence on this restriction in May 2018.
We welcome the restrictions, however, for the most common uses of microplastics there are transition periods ranging from 4 to 12 years. We are disappointed to see such long transition periods, especially for products such as lipsticks and lip balms for which restrictions will not apply for 12 years. The European Commission has also committed to developing measures to address pollution from accidental and unintentionally released microplastics. We hope to see the inclusion of robust measures with more ambitious transition periods.
See our advice on how to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in cosmetics here.