The Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI) released a new report January 15 2016, recommending a Swedish ban on micro plastics in personal care products such as toothpaste, scrubs and hand cleaning products. If the proposal were enforced, Sweden would become the first EU Member State to implement such a ban.
"We welcome the Swedish Chemicals Agency's decision and urge the Government to enforce all the recommendations given in the report. Regarding micro plastics, we deem that the precautionary principle, the safeguarding of the marine environment and the current state of scientific knowledge are sufficient in motivating society to react" the researchers write.
Nearly 40 tons of micro plastics from such personal care products reach the Baltic Sea yearly, according to a survey conducted by the Baltic Eye. According to Marie Löf, ecotoxicologist and initiator of the debate article, this only constitutes a fraction of total emissions to the Baltic.
- The major sources of pollution, such as the wear of the tires and the degradation of larger plastic items, are often difficult to address. Micro plastics in personal care products are a source where we can easily implement measures to reduce this unnecessary source, says Marie Löf.
In recent years, the industry has shown that it is possible to phase out micro plastics from production of personal care products. Some multinational companies have replaced the plastics with e.g. silica, which has the same abrasive and cleaning effects.
- In scrubs, the micro plastics can be replaced with biodegradable ingredients, such as crushed almond shells or apricot kernels, says Marie Löf.
However, the process of phasing out these plastics in the industries is voluntary and relatively slow. A Swedish national legislation could lead the way in implementing an EU-wide ban, Marie Löf believes.
- The EU Commission is investigating the need for a ban throughout the Union. In addition, several other countries have previously raised the issue. It is therefore good that Sweden is now taking the lead and showing the way, she says.
- For it to have any measurable effect on the Baltic Sea, it is not enough to just work on a national level.
The issue of a Swedish national ban on micro plastics in personal care products is now on the government's table. Since the proposal requires a regulation change it will now be sent out on referral/consultation. If the Government decides to go ahead with the proposal this will be reported to the EU and WTO. Only then can the Government adopt the changes in the regulation required for a national ban.
Last summer, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the Swedish Government to identify and propose measures with regards to the most important sources of emissions to seas and lakes. The assignment is part of the action plan for a toxic-free everyday environment, and will be presented in June 2017.