European Commission proposes new restrictions on microplastics

The European Commission has just published a draft, which targets microplastics by introducing a restriction on the placing on the market of synthetic polymer microparticles on their own, or intentionally present in mixtures, in order to reduce emissions without undue delay.

The Commission considers that there is considerable microplastic pollution arising from the use of synthetic polymer microparticles on their own or intentionally present in products, which poses an unacceptable risk to the environment. In fact, the European Chemicals Agency estimated that, currently, more than 42 000 tonnes of intentionally-present microplastics are eventually released into the environment every year, hence the proposed restriction for an appropriate Union-wide measure to reduce such risks. According to the proposal, the “potential impacts of microplastic pollution on the environment and possibly human health have raised concerns in various parts of the world”. Indeed, plastics have already been found now not only at the most remote places of Earth, but in our blood vessels too (in form of nanoplastics).

Concretely, the text states that “synthetic polymer microparticles shall not be placed on the market as substances on their own or, where the synthetic polymer microparticles are present to confer a sought-after characteristic, in mixtures in a concentration equal to or greater than 0,01 % by weight”.

With this move, it is estimated to result in a cumulative emission reduction of approximately 500 000 tonnes of microplastics over the 20-year period following the introduction of the prohibition, which corresponds to a reduction of 70 % of the quantified emissions in sectors/products such as make-up, lip and nail ‘leave-on’ cosmetic products, fertilizers, sports surfaces etc.

Nonetheless, not everything is immediately restricted. Depending on the expected socio-economic impacts and the availability of alternatives, specific transitional periods and exceptions are proposed for selected product groups, while the Commission considers it appropriate as well to exclude natural, degradable and soluble polymers from the definition of synthetic polymer microparticles, as they do not contribute to the risk.

The draft shall be discussed in the REACH Committee on the 23rd of September 2022.

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