by Klaudia Cibolja Sostaric
In December 2020, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) adopted its opinion to ban intentionally added microplastics in certain products placed on the market in the EU/EEA. This is expected to prevent the release of 500,000 tonnes of microplastics over 20 years. SEAC also finalized its evaluation of the costs and expected benefits of the proposal to the European society.
Each year, around 42,000 tonnes of microplastics end up in the environment after using products containing them. The largest source of pollution comes from the granular rubber infill material added to artificial turf sport pitches, with a release of up to 16,000 tonnes per year.
ECHA’s restriction proposal would ban EU-wide products containing intentionally added microplastics that are unavoidably released to the environment by a usage of a product containing them. This would apply for products such as cosmetics, household and industrial detergents and cleaning products, fertilizers, plant protection products and seed coatings.
Other relevant products, such as paints and inks where usage does not inevitably result in environmental release, are not to be prohibited by the proposal, but monitored for control purposes. Companies would need to report the microplastic usage and release to ECHA while suppliers would be obliged to provide instructions to users in order to prevent or minimize any residual releases of microplastics to the environment.
The proposal also defines options to prevent the release of microplastics used as granular rubber infill material on artificial turf sport pitches. These options include an EU-wide ban on the placing on the market of these microplastics after a transition period of six years after entering into force. SEAC does not have any preferences regarding the risk management measures proposed by ECHA to manage microplastics generated in this way, stating that the choice shall depend on policy priorities, especially concerning the reduction of emissions compared to costs.
SEAC also recommended that the restriction shall apply to all microplastics that are larger than 1 nm, but noted that a temporary larger size limit of 100 nm set by the proposal may be necessary to guarantee that the restriction can be enforced by detecting microplastics in relevant products.
The adoption of SEAC’s opinion accompanied the opinion of ECHA’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC), adopted earlier in June 2020. Both committees supported ECHA’s restriction proposal while making some recommendations to the European Commission that will together with the EU Member States ratify the final restriction.
Based on ECHA’s report and the committees combined opinions, the European Commission is expected to prepare its proposal to amend the list of restrictions to the REACH Regulation (Annex XVII). Following a voting procedure by the EU Member States in the REACH Committee and a period of scrutiny by the European Parliament and the Council, the restriction could be adopted in 2021.
Microplastics, European Commission, European Chemical Agency (ECHA), SEAC Committee, Restriction Proposal
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