13 Februar 2019

European Commission welcomes ECHA’s opinion on restricting microplastics intentionally added to products

Dossier reviews available scientific information on hazards of microplastics, identifies their uses and emissions, and tries to assess the risks

In the framework of the EU Plastics Strategy, at the request of the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has assessed the health and environmental risks posed by intentionally added microplastics and has concluded that an EU-wide restriction would be justified.

Today the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has published a restriction dossier under the REACH Regulation targeting intentionally added microplastics in products, in order to prevent that they end up in the environment. This dossier reviews the available scientific information on the hazards of microplastics, identifies their uses and emissions, and tries to assess the risks. The dossier was developed at the request of the European Commission in the context of the Plastics Strategy, and covers a variety of sectors, from cosmetic industry to agriculture and construction.

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “I am happy to see that work on restricting microplastics intentionally added to products is progressing. The EU is the first to address all microplastics intentionally added in products, and not just microbeads used in cosmetics. This is part of our comprehensive approach to tackle microplastics, which are potentially harmful for marine life, and enter our food chain, with yet unknown impacts on human health.”  Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs said: “The EU is committed to reduce microplastics and ECHA’s investigation is an essential first step to tackle microplastics that are intentionally used in products. There are alternatives available to replace microplastics – we need close cooperation with industry to achieve a true circular plastics economy”.

The microplastics within the scope of the restriction have a wide range of consumer and professional applications across multiple sectors. They are used in cosmetic products, detergents and maintenance products, paints, inks and coatings, construction materials and medicinal products, as well as in other products used in agriculture and horticulture and in the oil and gas sectors.

Next steps:

The restriction dossier will be scrutinised by the Risk Assessment and Socio-Economic Analysis Committees of ECHA as well as by the Enforcement Forum, including a public consultation for 6 months. Sectors affected by the restriction should follow the process closely and submit their contribution during the public consultation. The ECHA Committees will formulate their opinions and send them to the European Commission, expected in spring 2020. It is then up to the European Commission to propose to amend the REACH Regulation if the restriction meets the legal requirements.

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Background

Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic below 5mm in size that resist (bio)degradation. In total, it is estimated that between 75 000 and 300 000 tonnes of microplastics are released into the environment each year in the EU. While a large amount of microplastics result from the fragmentation of larger pieces of plastic waste, significant quantities also enter the environment directly, making it more challenging to track and prevent them. The European Commission is addressing microplastics as part of its Plastics Strategy. The Plastics Strategy adopts a stepwise approach to reduce the emissions of microplastics from all sources: First, the intentionally added microplastics in products; second, microplastics that are generated unintentionally during the life-cycle of products, and finally, plastic waste entering the sea and ultimately becoming microplastics because of fragmentation, if the waste is not removed.

Source: European Commission, press release, 2019-01-30.

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