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ECHA to consider restrictions on the use of oxo-plastics and microplastics


Following the requests from the European Commission, ECHA has started to prepare restriction proposals for oxo-plastics and for intentionally added microplastic particles to consumer or professional use products of any kind.

Helsinki, 17 January 2018 – The Commission has asked ECHA to prepare proposals for possible restrictions concerning oxo-plastics and intentionally added microplastic particles. These activities support the Commission’s plastics strategy, which was made public on 16 January 2018.

Current evidence suggests a potential risk to the environment and human health from microplastic particles that are intentionally added to certain consumer or professional products such as cosmetics, detergents and paint. Oxo-plastics, also called oxo-degradable plastics, facilitate the rapid degradation of polymer materials into very small particles, and may potentially contribute to microplastic pollution.

Stakeholders will be invited to provide relevant information to ECHA during the preparation for these two restriction proposals. To this effect, calls for evidence will be launched in spring 2018 to assist with the risk and socio-economic assessment of intentionally added microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics.

Other types of material that may lead to generation of microplastics, such as the degradation of textiles and carpets, are not covered by the requests of the Commission.

What are oxo- and microplastics?

Oxo-plastics or oxo-degradable plastics are conventional plastics that contain additives which promote the oxidation of the material under certain conditions. They are used in applications such as agricultural films, rubbish and carrier bags, food packaging, and landfill covers. They can break down into very small particles, potentially contributing to environmental contamination by microplastics.

Microplastics are synthetic, water-insoluble polymer items smaller than 5 mm, which are considered to be of particular concern for the aquatic environment. The potential impact of microplastics on the (aquatic) environment and human health have generated concerns in Member States of the European Union and worldwide.

Background information

The restriction process under REACH

REACH restriction is a regulatory tool used when the risks from a substance are not controlled by other regulatory means and need to be addressed Union-wide. It means that the manufacture, placing on the market or use of a substance is limited or banned.

The process of restricting a substance starts with a notification by either ECHA or an EU Member State of the intention to propose a restriction (i.e. today's announcement). Within one year after the notification, the actual proposal is submitted.

A conformity check of the proposal is carried out by the ECHA’s scientific committees: the Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) and the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC). Conforming dossiers are subject to a six-month public consultation open to anyone, including companies, trade unions, NGOs, individual citizens or public authorities worldwide.

When the commenting deadline is over, the committees meet again and discuss taking the comments received from the public into account.

The scientific committees then prepare their opinions on the proposal. The final opinion is sent to the European Commission, which prepares a draft amendment to the restriction list (Annex XVII) of the REACH Regulation within three months.

If the opinion on the draft amendment to Annex XVII is favourable for the restriction, the Commission sends the draft amendment to the European Parliament and the Council and if they do not oppose it, it is formally adopted by the European Commission and becomes EU law.

The restriction comes into force at the same time in all of the EU Member States and the substance cannot be used, manufactured or imported freely anymore in the European Union.

It takes approximately four years for a restriction to have an effect from the date when ECHA or a Member State started to work on it.