France was first out this year with its ban against sales of rinse-off personal products containing microplastics, taking effect as of 1st January 2018. The UK isn’t far after but with a two-step approach: banning the manufacturing as of 9 January, and thereafter sales from 20 June 2018.
Several other EU member states, some quite far ahead in their own legislative process - such as Sweden, are instead waiting for the European Commission’s Plastic Strategy, foreseen to be released 16 January and which may contain a proposal for an EU wide ban.
With the French and British governments now moving ahead, both bans focus on solid plastic particles, thus excluding liquid or semi-solid particles. But then they differ slightly:
- They both ban microbeads found in rinse-off cosmetics. But where the French only ban their use in products with exfoliating or cleansing purposes, the British goes one step further to ban microplastic particles in all rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products. With this move, the UK government claims that it is one of the toughest bans in the world.
- The French ban refers to particles smaller than 5 mm whereas the British also defines them as equal to 5 mm or smaller.
- The French exclude solid microplastic particles of natural origin which do not subsist in nature and with a defined degradation time, whereas the British does not make this exclusion specific and rather defines the banned particle as being made up of a synthetic polymeric substance that is water-insoluble.
Reading the debate just before Christmas in the House of Commons, some of the Members of Parliament (MP) voice that they would have wished for the ban to have a wider scope.
- Foremost it’s the issue of only focusing on rinse-off products and thus excluding leave-on products, such as make up and sun lotion which also contain microplastics and which may be rinsed off, instead wiped off and thrown in the trash.
- The second issue is limiting it to personal care products and not extending the ban to other cleaning products which may contain microplastics.
- The third issue is the definition of ‘synthetic’ and its limitations. This as semi-synthetic polymers may be derived from naturally occurring polymers but may, even though they are partially natural, not degrade in the marine environment.
- The fourth issue raised is that of the solidity of particles. Semi-solid particles such as synthetic waxes may not be covered by the ban.
With these issues raised it will be interesting to see what the scope of a potential EU wide ban may look like. If such a ban is proposed, will it have the same scope as the French and British or will it be further extended to cover a broader range of products with intentionally added microplastics?