The government wants to ban micro plastics in personal care products

The Swedish Government is investigating the possibility of introducing a Swedish ban on micro plastics in personal care products and cosmetics.

Text: Henrik Hamrén

- I hope that the Swedish initiative will inspire the other Baltic countries, says Minister for Climate and Environment Åsa Romson (Miljöpartiet – Swedish Green party)

The problem with the proliferation of micro plastics in the ocean is not news for Swedish decision makers. A joint petition to the European Commission was written by Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg already last year, in which they proposed a EU-wide ban on the use of micro plastics in personal care products.

However, the Commission has not yet responded. Therefore, Sweden should now take the lead, according to Åsa Romson.

- To phase out micro plastics from cosmetic products is an easy first step to reduce emissions of micro plastics to the Sea. We know that there are effective and more environmentally friendly alternatives to plastics, she says.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency investigates

The road to a national ban is through the European Commission, which in this case must approve a so-called special legislation. As a first step, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI) has therefore been commissioned by the Swedish Government to investigate the possibility to reach such a legislation.

The assignment runs until 2017 and is included in the Action plan for toxic-free everyday environment. The agency will, among other things, analyze the legal framework for such a ban based on the extensive network of rules and regulations of the EU. They will also collect and assess scientific knowledge about micro plastics and how they affect living organisms.

To further improve the overall picture of the problems of micro plastics, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was in 2015 commissioned to identify and propose measures with regards to the main sources of emissions of micro plastics to seas and lakes.

More countries need to join forces

One of the greatest scientific challenges regarding microplastics in the ocean is to quantify the problem. How many particles are there? And how much do different sources emit?

According to a study from the Baltic Eye at Stockholm University's Baltic Sea Centre, some 40 tons of micro plastics are annually released into the Baltic Sea through the use of personal care products. This is only part of the total supply. In contrast to many other emission sources, reducing or excluding this one is relatively easy.

To simply cut off the supply from Sweden will however not affect emissions significantly. Åsa Romson therefore hopes that the Swedish initiative will also inspire other countries around the Baltic Sea to follow suite.

A possible way forward, she says, is to agree on a joint recommendation to phase out the microplastics.

- If such a recommendation would be approved, it will be up to individual countries to determine if the phase-out will be done by national bans or agreements with the national business sector, says Åsa Romson.

Marie Löf



Henrik Hamrén

science journalist