2019.01.30

"It is possible to find alternatives to microplastics"

2019.01.30

ECHA proposes new ban on microplastics

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) propose a ban on intentionally added microplastic to a range of products. Researcher Marie Löf at the Baltic Sea Center welcomes the proposal.

ECHA presented a restriction proposal on Wednesday ban microplastic particles that are intentionally added to mixtures used by consumers or professionals, and will result in releases of microplastics to the environment.

The proposed ban covers microplastics in a range of products, including cosmetics, detergents, fertilizers and pesticides.

– We welcome this restriction proposal for microplastic particles. As several industry initiatives has already shown for microplastics in rinse-off cosmetics, it is possible to find alternative materials that function well in the products and are better for the environment, says Marie Löf, researcher at Baltic Sea Center.

Fertilizers and pesticides top the list of sources of intentionally added microplastics. They are added to increase the efficiency of fertilizers and pesticides. ECHA proposes a ban on microplastics in fertilizer by 2025. According to ECHA that will give industry sufficient time to reformulate and transition to biodegradable alternatives. Other products have different dates for the proposed bans.

– The transitional periods are rather long in some cases, between two and ten years. Personally, I wish that there would be a requirement also during the transitional period to label the products or in other ways inform consumers that the products contain microplastics, says Marie Löf.

According to Marie Löf this would enable consumers to make informed choices.

– It would also benefit companies that are in the forefront of substituting these unwanted plastic particles from their products, she says.

Cosmetics sometimes include a specific kind of microplastics, called microbeads, as an exfoliating agent. Several EU countries have already banned microbeads in rinse-off products. If the ECHA proposal comes into force that restriction would be made consistent across the EU. Furthermore, the ECHA proposal also includes a ban on microbeads in leave-on cosmetics. 

There are a wider range of products that contain intentionally added microplastics, but for which the uses are not expected to result in releases to the environment in the same extent, for example microplastics used in industrial and medical applications. For these products ECHA suggests requirements on labelling and reporting.

The proposed regulation is expected to enter into force in 2020, and to be evaluated again in about five years. Introducing new restrictions regarding the use of intentionally added microplastics is motivated by concerns for potential environmental and human health risks. The main arguments are that the microplastic particles are small and thus readily available for ingestion and transfer within food chains.

– Plastics are very persistent and remain for a long time in the environment. A crucial factor for microplastics, as opposed to larger plastic objects, is that once they have been released into the environment they are virtually impossible to remove, says Marie Löf.

A public consultation will begin at the end of March, according to ECHA. The proposal will also be examined by scientific committees within the agency, and is expected to be sent to the Commission for decision in early 2020.

FACTS: Tire wear not included

According to the the ECHA proposal, 36,000 tons of intentionally added microplastics are released into the European environment each year from the sources addressed in the proposal. This accounts for about a fifth of the 176,300 tons of microplastics found in the environment each year.

Tire wear is the single biggest source of microplastics (94,000 tons per year) – but it is not addressed in the ECHA proposal since it is not intentionally added.

Marie Löf

Ecotoxicologist
marie.lof@su.se

Hanna Sjölund

Hanna Sjölund

Advocacy and Analysis Officer
hanna.sjolund@su.se