Further reading

EU Ministers demand proposal to ban microplastics

The EU environmental ministers calls on the European Commission to put forward a proposal for a ban on microplastics in cosmetics. The pressure now increases for the Commission to actually deal with the growing demand for a ban.

– After yesterday’s announcement from the environment and climate ministers it will be difficult for the Commission to avoid the issue, says Marie Löf, Baltic Eye expert on microplastics in marine environments.

It was during Monday’s Environment Council in Luxemburg that the clear message to the Commission came. With it the environment and climate ministers join the voices of numerous scientists, politicians and NGOs who for long have been demanding an EU wide ban on microplastics in cosmetics.

In Sweden there is already a political support behind introducing a ban – both at national and EU level.

National bans

Sweden has long been calling for an EU ban, together with among others the Netherlands and Denmark. Earlier this year the Swedish Chemical Agency recommended that Sweden introduces a national ban against microplastics in cosmetic products. Recently the UK government also announced that they are open to a national ban.

In the European Parliament strong forces have been calling on the Commission to address the issue. This spring an MEP launched a written declaration and managed to gather 340 signatures from fellow MEPs. If only 20 more signatures would have been collected, the declaration would have passed. Nevertheless, this sends a strong message to the Commission to bring the issue to the table.

Successful measures depend on cooperation

The Commission’s persistent silence is a problem says Marie Löf. Decreasing the inflow of microplastics to the marine environment is a big challenge and only possible if it is addressed at the EU level, she says.

– Marine plastic litter knows no national borders. National initiatives are good and it is necessary that some countries take the lead. But joint efforts are needed to ensure a significant reduction of the inflow of microplastics to lakes and seas. Cosmetics is a good starting point since there for many cosmetic products are numerous environmentally friendly, but slightly more expensive, alternatives for the industry.

Worrying effects of microplastics

The scientific reasoning against microplastics in cosmetics comes from a growing number of studies on the negative effects of microplastics on marine environment and its organisms. For instance, researchers at Uppsala University recently showed that perch spawn prefers to eat microplastics over plankton.

In the experiment with environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics, they show that plastic particles can change the behaviour in perch larvae and reduce their survival. In addition, the plastics inhibit the frequency of hatching.

Not only in scrubs

In the legal debate about a ban the distinction is often made between rinse off and leave on cosmetics. The Swedish Chemical Agency’s recommendation only relates to a ban on microplastics in products that are rinsed off (e.g. exfoliating creams and facial scrubs).

But microplastics are also added for texture and used as cheap fillers in a vast range of other cosmetics, such as powder, eye shadow, lipstick and mascara. These are classified as leave on products. But since many users wash these off with water, a lot of the microplastics end up in the drain anyway. Furthermore, the particles in these products are often very small, which makes it easier for them to pass through waste water treatment plants and out into the marine environment.

Clear message to the Commission

With the clear message from the EU environment ministers there is now a momentum to introduce an EU wide ban within the framework of the Circular Economy Package and the coming Plastics Strategy, says Marie Löf.

At the same time, she emphasises the importance of a well thought-through and broad ban which truly protects the marine environment against this harmful ingredient.

– There are no good arguments for burdening the marine environment with microplastics from these types of products, irrespective of whether the particles come from make up or exfoliators. The ban needs to include all types of plastics that do not degradable quickly in waste water treatment plants. 

Marie Löf