European Commision finally restricts intentional use of microplastics in first concrete victory for ecosystems and human health

Yet strong industry commitment is now required to ensure effective enforcement

Brussels, 25 September, 2023
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The deliberate use of microplastics in products such as sports pitches, detergents, diapers and cosmetics – to name just a few – is a significant and dangerous source of plastic pollution. Every year, around 42 000 tonnes of these harmful microplastics end up in every corner of our planet. They accumulate in our oceans and mountains. They are found in animals, food, drinking water and ultimately – our blood and organs. 

In 2017, the European Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to propose measures to address the pollution caused by microplastics used in products. Two years later, the ECHA made an ambitious proposal to ban all intentionally added microplastics, unless they meet criteria for specific derogations, such as being biodegradable. However, some products like artificial sports pitches and cosmetics were granted excessively long transition periods within the proposal, despite the fact that sustainable and effective alternatives are already readily available on the market. Furthermore, additional legislative measures on other microplastic sources are still needed to fully meet the 30% reduction target for microplastic pollution by 2030.

Today, after years of discussion at the ECHA, and negotiations between the European Commission and EU member states, the restriction has finally been adopted on 25th September [1]. It will formally enter into force twenty days.

Having followed and supported the restriction process from the start, the Rethink Plastic Alliance is relieved to see the text finally adopted and will now put its full support into ensuring quick and effective enforcement.

This ban could substantially contribute to the elimination of unnecessary plastics from our environment but requires the active commitment of all stakeholders, including national governments and local municipalities, civil society and industry to be properly enforced. We urge all companies that add microplastics to their products, especially those that are exempt from the restriction or that have been afforded longer transition periods to start using safe, microplastic-free alternatives imminently.

Expert voices

Hélène Duguy, Law and Policy Adviser at ClientEarth said:

“After so many years of work, we are thrilled that decision makers supported the restriction. Despite several loopholes, it is a concrete victory for the protection of our ecosystems and human health. 

The process has shown just how harmful microplastics pollution is –  but also how easy it is for many sectors to replace them with harmless alternatives in their products. However, there is still a lot of work left to do and the implementation of this restriction may prove challenging. This is why we are calling on governments and companies to step up now and eliminate harmful microplastics from their products.”  

Lucie Padovani, Marine Litter Lobbying Officer at Surfrider Foundation Europe

“This restriction marks a significant stride towards the EU’s target of reducing microplastic emissions by at least 30% by 2030. Microplastic-free products will contribute to safeguarding the Ocean from a preventable source of harmful plastic particles entering through waterways. While empowering consumers with clearer consumption choices, this milestone underscores the importance of industry innovation and long-term vision to address this challenge head-on.”

Dolores Romano, Policy Manager for Chemicals at the European Environmental Bureau

“This restriction shows how authorities can protect people and the environment from large groups of hazardous chemicals when there is a political will to do so. We welcome this restriction and encourage the Commission to keep banning groups of highly hazardous chemicals and plastics such as bisphenols, phthalates, flame retardants or PVC, as promised under the Green Deal.”

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[1] Please find the text version adopted here.

Rethink Plastic