Problem Six Times Bigger than Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Draft EU Law to Tackle Micro Plastic Waste

The EU could ban the use of microplastics and microbeads in all products using its powerful chemical laws under a draft bill tabled this week.

Microplastic sperules in tooth paste, about 30 µm in diameter.

Image © Dantor, CC BY-SA 3.0

The EU could ban the use of microplastics and microbeads in all products using its powerful chemical laws under a draft bill tabled this week.

According to the European Chemicals Agency, between 10,000 and 60,000 tonnes of microplastics are intentionally added to products leak into the environment annually, are impossible to remove and last for thousands of years.

The Rethink Plastics Alliance, made up of a group of NGOs, said that the scale of the problem is dramatic – six times the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the plastic pollution generated by 10 billion plastic bottles.

Microplastics accumulate and persist in the environment, one of the main reasons why the agency concluded it is necessary to restrict microplastic ingredients under Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), the strictest set of chemical laws in the world.

The restriction is expected to become law across Europe by 2020. It will prevent an estimated 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution, the agency says.

The NGOs welcomed the move as a significant step forward but strongly warn that it grants unnecessary delays for most industrial sectors and excludes some biodegradable polymers.

As it stands, they said that the draft law will only restrict one sector when it comes into force, namely cleansing products made by firms which have already pledged to stop using microplastics. Other sectors will be granted two to six years before the law takes effect.

The proposal will go to public consultation this summer followed by economic, social and risk assessments, then a vote by government experts in the REACH committee, which is not expected before early 2020.

Rethink Plastic spokesperson Elise Vitali said: 

“The European Union is rapidly becoming a leader in the global culture shift away from wasteful plastic. Microplastic is one of those vast but largely invisible problems, a menace all around and in us.

“It was fed by irresponsible firms, such as those making personal care products that decided to swap out natural ingredients such as ground almond, coconut shell and olive seed for plastic microbeads.

“We’ll be pushing hard to tighten this proposal to ensure real impact. Tackling the plastics inside products is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to solving the microplastic blight but is a necessary step.”

The ban is part of the EU plastics strategy which saw Europe become the first continent to start banning many types of single-use plastic by 2021.

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