by Eleanor Grimes, PhD
Since the beginning of the year, ECHA has been pushing through policy advising the restriction of microplastics in consumer and professional products, whilst simultaneously working with CEFIC, PlasticsEurope and EuPc to map a range of plastic additives to allow industry to prioritise their usage.
Microplastics are ubiquitous throughout modern day life as they are used in a wide range of products including cosmetics, detergents, paints, medicinal products and fertilisers. However, in November 2017, ECHA was asked to assess the potential for restriction of intentionally added microplastics; the results of the enquiry were published in January of this year, and a recommendation was made that a phase restriction be put into place. The aim of this restriction is to reduce the emission of microplastics by 400,000 tonnes over 20 years.
The reasoning behind the restriction of microplastics is their environmental impact. Unlike larger plastics, they cannot be removed via the normal water treatment processes and eventually end up in the food chain as they are ingested by animals; this then causes further concern as they could pose a risk to human health.
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Additional information on the restriction of microplastics can be found on ECHA’s website.
In late 2016, a joint project was initiated to characterise the usage of plastic additives and their potential leaching from articles. The project has resulted in over 400 additives being characterised and divided into a series of categories including plasticisers, flame retardants and pigments. A method for assessment has also been developed that uses widely available physical data, and it can be used to screen substances that are not already under regulatory control.
The aim of the project is to allow industry to more easily assess the substances of increased risk and to find suitable replacements. Those substances with the highest degree of risk can then be prioritised for further scrutiny and, if necessary, phased out of use.
How the screening works: https://echa.europa.eu/comparing-relative-release-potential#table
List of plastic additives: https://echa.europa.eu/mapping-exercise-plastic-additives-initiative#table
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