The European Chemicals Agency ECHA is proposing a ban on microplastic particles that are intentionally added to mixtures used by consumers or professionals.
The restruction proposal covers a wide range of uses in consumer and professional products in multiple sectors, including cosmetic products, detergents and maintenance products, paints and coatings, construction materials and medicinal products, as well as various products used in agriculture and horticulture and in the oil and gas sectors.
If adopted, the restriction could reduce the amount of microplastics released to the environment in the EU by about 400 thousand metric tons during the next 20 years.
The agency assessed the health and environmental risks posed by intentionally added microplastics and concluded that an EU-wide restriction would be justified.
ECHA's assessment found that intentionally added microplastics are most likely to accumulate on land, as the particles concentrate in sewage sludge that is frequently applied as fertilizer. A much smaller proportion of these microplastics is released directly to waterways.
Once released, they can be extremely persistent in the environment, lasting thousands of years, and practically impossible to remove. Due to their small size, microplastics and nanoplastics — even smaller particles that are created from the further degradation of microplastics — may be readily ingested and thereby enter the food chain. The potential effects on human health are still not well understood.
Several EU member countries have already introduced bans on the use of microplastics in certain types of products, largely concerning wash-off cosmetic products.