The European Commission has adopted new rules to prohibit the sale of microplastics and of a range of products containing microplastics, in a move that is expected to prevent the release to the environment of about half a million tons of the pollutant. The ban will affect products to which microplastics are added intentionally, including some cosmetic products, detergents, fertilizers, and artificial sports pitches.
Once in the environment, microplastics cannot biodegrade or be removed. They accumulate in animals and fish, and are consequently consumed as food by humans, the European Commission noted.
“Banning intentionally added microplastics addresses a serious concern for the environment and people’s health. Microplastics are found in the seas, rivers and on land, as well as in food and drinking water. [This] restriction concerns very small particles, but it is a big step towards reducing human-made pollution,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.
The definition of microplastics used in the restriction covers all synthetic polymer particles measuring less than five millimeters that are organic, insoluble, and resist (bio)degradation, according to the press release.
The cost of the ban is estimated at EUR 19 billion over 20 years
The total cost for all stakeholders, industry, sports clubs, and municipalities has been estimated at up to EUR 19 billion over the next 20 years, but the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has determined they are proportionate to the expected environmental benefits.
The ban covers cosmetics where microplastics are used for multiple purposes, such as exfoliation (microbeads) or obtaining a specific texture, fragrance or color, as well as detergents, fabric softeners, glitter, fertilizers, plant protection products, toys, medicines, and medical devices.
It will also apply to the granular infill material used on artificial sport surfaces, which is the largest source of intentional microplastics in the environment, the commission noted.
Microbeads in cosmetics will be prohibited immediately, while some other products will have a transitional period
The ban will apply immediately, within 20 days of the adoption, to cosmetics containing microbeads (small plastic beads used for exfoliation) and to loose glitter made of plastic, but some other cosmetic products will be allowed a transitional period of four to 12 years.
As for material for sport surfaces, the ban applies after eight years to give pitch owners and managers the time to switch to alternatives and allow existing sport pitches to reach their end of life.
Construction materials, food, and feed are excluded from the ban
Products that contain microplastics but do not release them or their release can be minimized are excluded from the ban. However, manufacturers will have to report the estimated microplastics emissions and provide instructions for the use and disposal of the product to prevent microplastics emissions.
They include construction materials, products used at industrial sites, and products already regulated by other EU legislation, such as medicinal products, food, and feed.