Plastic made our lives much easier in many aspects. It is, among other things, cheaper and lighter than most materials. However, if not properly disposed, plastics end up in the environment and eventually contaminate the food chain. It is estimated that annually around 42 thousand tonnes of microplastics end up in the air, ground, sea, and oceans. In fact, plastics do not biodegrade. Bigger particles can be collected by purification systems, but microplastics stay and cause irreversible damages.
Microplastics are defined as plastic particles typically smaller than 5 mm. This specific type of plastic consists of a mixture of polymers and functional additives. It can be in the form of granules, fibers, or flakes. Given its source, it may be unintentionally formed from larger pieces of plastic, like plastic bags, clothing, and tear. Nonetheless, plastics can also be deliberately manufactured and added to the products for specific purposes, such as decorative glitter.
The ECHA proposal
In order to protect the environment, ECHA, the European Chemical Agency, has proposed to the European Commission restrictions on microplastics that are intentionally added to products and are inevitably released into the environment. According to the proposal, the concentration of microplastic in a mixture should not exceed 0.01%. This would be almost equal to a ban in the European Union. The proposition may be adopted in the year 2022. This restriction is expected to prevent the release of 500 thousand tonnes of microplastics in the period of over 20 years.
The proposal includes three measures:
– restriction on the placing on the market of microplastics on their own or in
mixtures where their use will result in polluting the environment;
– labelling requirement, which means that any supplier will have to provide sufficient information either on labels, in the instructions for use, or in the Safety Data Sheet (SDS), to avoid releasing microplastics in the environment;
– reporting requirement, which foresees the publication of annual reports on substances or mixtures containing microplastics used in the European industrial sites. The reports will improve the quality of the available information and help in assessing the amount of microplastics released and potential future risks.
Potential transition periods
The European Chemical Agency has proposed three transition periods for different types of products. For rinse-off and leave-on cosmetics products, there might be a transition period of four and six years, respectively, if they contain microplastics but no microbeads. For products containing microbeads, there could be no transition period as they can be easily replaced by alternatives such as coconut shells or olive seeds.
The proposed restrictions would have a big impact on many industries including cosmetics, medical, food supplements, and many more. Manufacturers and importers would have to make sure that they comply with the new restrictions by changing the formulas to ensure that the final product will be microplastic-free or use environmentally friendly alternatives.
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Regulatory Affairs Department
1) European Chemical Agency. (2022). Microplastics. Retrieved on 21/02/22 from: https://echa.europa.eu/hot-topics/microplastics
2) Lebreux, F. (2021). Future Restriction of Microplastics in Cosmetic Products. Retrieved on 20/02/22 from: https://biorius.com/regulatory/future-restriction-of-microplastics-in-cosmetic-products/
3) European Chemical Agency. (2019). Annex XV Restriction Report Proposal for a Restriction. Retrieved on 20/02/22 from: https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/05bd96e3-b969-0a7c-c6d0-441182893720
4) European Chemical Agency. (2020). Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) – Opinion on an Annex XV dossier proposing restrictions on intentionally-added microplastics. Retrieved on 21/02/22 from: https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/a513b793-dd84-d83a-9c06-e7a11580f366
5) European Chemical Agency. (2020). Restriction proposal on intentionally added microplastics – questions and answers. Retrieved on 21/02/22 from: https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/28801697/qa_intentionally_added_microplastics_restriction_en.pdf/5f3caa33-c51f-869e-81c8-7e1852a4171c