2018.02.06

"it really doesn’t matter whether the particles come from a body scrub or an eyeshadow"

2018.02.06

Sweden bans “rinse-off” microplastics in cosmetics

Soap, toothpaste and other body care products that are directly rinsed off and contain microplastics are now banned in Sweden. The Swedish government adopted the ban on Thursday. Marie Löf from the Baltic Sea Centre describes this as a positive decision for the environment and hopes that the ban will soon be extended to cover non-rinse off products.

– The fact that we are now working to prevent completely unnecessary discharges can only be good for the environment. The plastic in these products can relatively simply be replaced with a more environmentally friendly alternative, explains Marie Löf, marine ecotoxicologist at the Baltic Sea Centre.

The ban applies to microplastics in cosmetic products that are rinsed off or spat out. The definition covers, for example, body scrubs, shower soap, shampoo/conditioner and toothpaste – but not, for example, make-up, skin cream and suntan lotion.

– There is also a lot of microplastics in cosmetic products that remain on the body and are not rinsed off. Certain types of eyeshadow and powders, for example, contain large amounts of microplastics. These microplastics might also eventually end up in the waste water, says Marie Löf.

It really doesn’t matter whether the particles come from a body scrub or an eyeshadow

According to a new report to the European Commission, 40 to 60 percent of all microplastics in cosmetic products in the EU are utilised in products that, according to their definition, are not rinsed off but are designed to remain on the body. These products are estimated to represent around 1,100 tons of microplastics per year.

– I am therefore hopeful that this is just the first step forwards. When an animal ingests microplastics, it really does not matter whether the particles come from a body scrub or an eyeshadow,” says Marie Löf.

The ban comes into force on 1 July this year, and from that date it is no longer permitted to sell cosmetic products that are rinsed off and that contain microplastics. Products purchased for inventory before the ban comes into force may be sold in shops up to 1 January 2019.

A necessary step towards reducing microplastics in our seas

The Swedish government issued a press release in which the Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog confirms that microplastics in rinse-off cosmetics are far from the largest source of plastics in the sea.

– But they are a low-hanging fruit, and the ban is a necessary step towards reducing microplastics in our seas, she claims.

Marie Löf agrees. In her opinion, the impact of microplastics on the marine environment is a relatively new research field, and we still lack substantial knowledge on sources, dispersion and environmental impact.

– Microplastics from cosmetics are one of many sources of microplastics, and it is important to attempt to limit the total supply of microplastics to marine and water environments. However, if we are efficient in reducing this source initially, we may achieve a positive spiral effect of action against sources that are more diffuse and more difficult to solve, she explains.

Will hopefully send important signals to the Commission

The UK, France, Italy, New Zealand, Canada and the USA have already introduced similar bans against microplastics in rinse-off cosmetic products. Marie Löf hopes that Sweden’s decision may encourage other EU countries to follow suit and introduce their own bans.

 – Hopefully, this will also send important signals to the Commission. In truth, this issue should be regulated by the EU rather than via a number of different national bans with varying definitions, she says.

The Swedish government has made it clear that a joint EU regulation would be preferable to different national regulations. The European Commission recently adopted a Plastics Strategy governing how to reduce the supply of both microplastics and larger plastic waste to the sea.

– I hope the strategy on plastics will result in efforts to reduce marine littering, both large plastic waste and microplastics, states Marie Löf.

ECHA and KemI are assessing further bans against microplastics

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been assigned the task by the Commission of assessing the scientific foundations for introducing an EU-wide ban on microplastics in cosmetic products and, if the foundations are sufficient, initiating a regulation process within a period of 12 months. 

At the same time, the Swedish government has commissioned the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI) to study whether a wider ban is required against microplastics in a higher number of cosmetic products and cleaning products. KemI shall present their conclusion at the latest by 31 March.

Marie Löf

Ecotoxicologist
marie.lof@su.se

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