EUROPE – The European Commission (EC) has adopted measures restricting microplastics intentionally added to products under the EU chemical legislation Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

This restriction will come into force later this week once it is published in the Official Journal of the EU.

The ban employs a comprehensive definition of microplastics, encompassing all organic, insoluble synthetic polymer particles that are below five millimeters in size and resistant to degradation.

Cosmetics where microplastics are used for multiple purposes, such as exfoliation (microbeads) or obtaining a specific texture, fragrance or color, will no longer be allowed. The rules will also include detergents, fabric softeners, toys, medicines and medical devices.

“This restriction contributes to the green transition of the EU industry and promotes innovative, microplastic-free products,” said an EU official.

“The EU industry – especially small and medium enterprises – which invested in and developed such products will be more competitive, [environmentally] sustainable and resilient.”

Thierry Breton, commissioner for Internal Market, adds: “This restriction contributes to the green transition of the EU industry and promotes innovative, microplastic-free products – from cosmetics to detergents to sport surfaces.”

“EU citizens will gain access to safer and more [environmentally] sustainable products and the EU industry – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – which invested in and developed such innovative products will be more competitive and resilient.”

The regulation aims to prevent the release of approximately half a million metric tonnes of microplastics into the environment. Another purpose is to minimize intentional microplastic emissions from as many products as possible.

Enacting the Green Deal agenda

The EC will prohibit the sale of microplastics and products to which microplastics have been added on purpose, which releases those microplastics when used. This works to reduce microplastic pollution from different sources, such as plastic waste and litter.

The EU Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan state that the EC is committed to fighting microplastic pollution.

In the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the Commission has set a target to reduce microplastic pollution by 30% by 2030.

The EU Green Deal aims to achieve climate neutrality in the region by 2050. In 2020, the second version of the Circular Economy Action Plan was published, which introduced 35 new actions and set a target of doubling the “circularity rate” by 2030. The circularity rate refers to the proportion of recycled material that is reintroduced into the EU economy.

“The breakdown of larger plastic articles, such as plastic packaging, is identified as one of the primary causes of unintentional releases of microplastics into the environment,” asserts the EU official.

The first measure, which bans microbeads in cosmetics, will take effect 20 days after the restriction is implemented in the EU and Northern Ireland.

However, for certain cosmetics, the regulations may apply for a period of 4 to 12 years, depending on factors such as the product’s complexity, the necessity for reformulation, and the availability of viable alternatives.

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