Scientific committees: EU-wide restriction best way to reduce microplastic pollution
The Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) has adopted its opinion on a landmark restriction proposal, which would ban microplastics in products such as cosmetics, detergents, fertilisers and could lead to a ban of its use as soft infill on artificial turf sports pitches. It would prevent the release of 500 000 tonnes of microplastics into the environment over 20 years.
Helsinki, 9 December 2020 – The adoption of SEAC’s opinion follows an earlier opinion by the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) in June 2020. Both committees concluded that an EU-wide restriction under the EU’s chemicals legislation REACH is the most appropriate means to address the risks of billions of small, solid plastic particles polluting our environment. SEAC also concluded on the expected benefits and costs to society of the proposal.
Bjorn Hansen, ECHA’s Executive Director says: “We need to protect our environment from microplastic pollution, and this restriction proposal is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. We have now concluded our scientific and technical assessment and given our recommendations on how to best address the risks. This will contribute to decision making in the European Commission and the aims of the EU’s Plastics Strategy.”
The proposal aims to ban products from the European market that contain intentionally added microplastics if these are released to our environment when the products are used. Examples are cosmetics, cleaning and laundry products, fertilisers, plant protection products and seed coatings. Other products, such as paints and inks, may also contain microplastics, but their use does not always lead to environmental releases. These uses are not proposed to be prohibited but would need to be reported to ECHA to ensure that residual releases are monitored and could be controlled in the future. Suppliers would also be obligated to give instructions on how residual releases can be minimised.
Several options to prevent the release of microplastic infill material from artificial turf sports pitches were recommended to the policy makers. These include a ban on placing on the market after a transition period of six years.
The restriction will prevent 500 000 tonnes of microplastics from ending up in the environment over 20 years. Over the same period, the total cost of the restriction to European society is estimated to be €10.8 or €19.1 billion depending on how environmental risks from the granular infill material (mainly from shredded car tyres) are addressed. The costs consist of the need to reformulate mixtures, replace microplastics with alternative materials and the need for authorities to enforce the restriction.
SEAC’s opinion will be available on ECHA’s website in early 2021. Details of the committee’s opinion and answers to frequently asked questions are available in the Q&A document. RAC’s opinion is already available on ECHA’s website.
Following the adoption of SEAC’s opinion, ECHA will send the opinions of both committees and its restriction proposal to the European Commission. Restrictions under the REACH Regulation are proposed by the European Commission, voted by the EU Member States in the REACH Committee and scrutinised by the Council and the European Parliament.
Each year around 42 000 tonnes of microplastics end up in the environment when products containing them are used. The market is also still growing. The biggest source of pollution is the granular infill material used on artificial turf sports pitches with releases of up to 16 000 tonnes a year.
In January 2019, ECHA proposed a wide-ranging restriction on intentional uses of microplastics in products placed on the EU/EEA market to avoid or reduce environmental pollution. The restriction proposal was developed in the context of the EU’s Plastics Strategy, which aims for a circular plastics economy and contributes to reaching the 2030 sustainable development goals, global climate commitments and the EU's industrial policy objectives.