On September 25, 2023, the European Commission announced a series of measures to combat microplastic pollution, including the ban on the sale of a wide range of products containing microplastics, such as cosmetics, detergents, and toys.
Microplastics are added to many products as texturing agents in various industries. However, these substances end up in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments, contaminating ecosystems, harming food chains, and having adverse health effects on humans and animals.
The European Commission aims to address microplastic pollution as part of the European Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan. In the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the European Commission has committed to reducing microplastic pollution by 30% by 2030.
As part of these efforts, the European Commission is targeting the reduction of microplastic pollution from different sources, including plastic waste and litter, unintentional emissions (e.g., plastic pellet loss, tire abrasion, or release from clothing), and intentional uses in products.
The European Commission has requested the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to assess the risk posed by microplastics intentionally added to products and determine whether further regulatory action at the EU level is necessary. ECHA concluded that microplastics intentionally added to specific products are being released into the environment without proper control, leading to a proposal for their restriction.
Based on scientific evidence provided by ECHA, the European Commission has taken significant steps to protect the environment by adopting measures to restrict microplastics added intentionally to products under the EU chemical regulation “REACH.”
The new rules will prevent the release of approximately half a million tons of microplastics into the environment. The sale of products containing microplastics and products that release microplastics when used will be banned. Exceptions and transition periods will be available for compliance with the new rules, provided that they are properly justified.
The restriction covers a broad definition of microplastics, encompassing all synthetic polymer particles under five millimeters that are organic, insoluble, and resistant to degradation. The aim is to reduce intentional microplastic emissions from as many products as possible.
Some examples of widely used products falling under the scope of the restriction include:
Granular infill material used in artificial sports surfaces, which is the largest source of microplastics.
Cosmetics where microplastics are used for multiple purposes, such as exfoliating (microbeads) or achieving a specific texture, fragrance, or color.
Detergents, fabric softeners, shimmer products, fertilizers, plant protection products, toys, medicines, and medical devices.
Products that are used in industrial facilities or do not emit microplastics during use are exempt from the sales ban. However, the new measures will require manufacturers to report their estimated annual microplastic emissions and provide instructions for preventing microplastic emissions during product use and disposal.
The first measures will begin to apply within 20 days of the restriction coming into force. In other cases, the sales ban will be applied at a later date to give affected stakeholders time to develop alternatives and transition to them