EU proposes new microplastics ban

30th January 2019


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The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has today proposed an EU-wide ban on microplastic particles that are intentionally added to a wide range of consumer and professional products.

If adopted, it is estimated that the restriction could prevent approximately 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution entering the environment in Europe over 20 years.

It would impact multiple sectors, such as agriculture and oil and gas, along with manufacturers of cosmetic products, detergents, construction materials and paints and coatings.

However, the ECHA said: “Implementing the restriction is expected to be cost-effective in all sectors, including the agricultural sector, identified in the proposal as the biggest source of intentionally added microplastics.

“Once released, they can be extremely persistent in the environment, lasting thousands of years, and practically impossible to remove.“

The ECHA's definition of microplastic is wide, covering small, typically microscopic (less than 5mm), synthetic polymer particles that resist biodegradation.

It is currently impossible to determine the long-term impact on the environment, but several EU member states have already introduced bans, largely concerning wash-off cosmetic products.

This comes after the UK government last year introduced a restriction on the sale of products containing microbeads, which was praised by campaigners as being among one of the toughest in the world.

It is estimated that just one shower could release 100,000 microbeads into the ocean, which are tiny pieces of plastic added to products like face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels.

The government also committed £200,000 for scientists at the University of Plymouth to explore how microplastics from tyres, fishing gear and other products enter the ocean.

Environment secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Microbeads might be tiny, but they are lethal to sea creatures and are entirely unnecessary. We have led the way in banning these toxic pieces of plastic, but this is by no means the end in our fight.“

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