EU Adopts Restriction of Intentionally Added Microplastics

micro plastics

The European Commission has finally implemented the restriction of intentionally added microplastics under the European Union Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation, marking one year since the proposal’s publication. The restriction enters into force on 17th October 2023.

On September 25, 2023, exactly one year after the proposal’s publication, the European Commission officially implemented restrictions on intentionally added microplastics under the European Union Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation 1907/2006, which serves as the EU’s framework for chemical regulation.

These restrictions are applicable to both stand-alone microplastics and their presence in specific consumer products such as cosmetics and detergents. Here’s a concise overview of the adopted restrictions:

Microplastic Definition: The restrictions adopt a comprehensive definition of microplastics, encompassing “synthetic polymer particles below five millimeters that are organic, insoluble, and resistant to degradation,” as detailed in the European Commission’s press release. Certain types of polymers have been excluded from this definition; we recommend checking the list if you suspect a polymer you use may qualify as a microplastic.

Covered Products: The restrictions apply to microplastics when they are sold as standalone substances or are “intentionally added” to provide specific desired characteristics in mixtures at a concentration equal to or greater than 0.01% weight/weight. Microbeads are an example of intentionally added microplastics. Some exceptions apply, which are outlined below.

Excluded Products: Certain products are exempt from the scope of the microplastic restrictions, allowing them to continue using microplastics, even when intentionally added. These exclusions encompass:

  • Microplastics used at industrial sites.
  • Medicinal products and veterinary medicinal products.
  • EU fertilizing products.
  • Food additives.
  • In vitro diagnostic devices.
  • Food and feed.

However, suppliers of medicinal products, veterinary medicinal products, food additives, and in vitro diagnostic devices containing microplastics are required to report specific information annually to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). Additionally, suppliers of microplastics used at industrial sites, as well as those supplying food additives and in vitro diagnostic devices containing microplastics, must provide instructions on product use and disposal to mitigate microplastic emissions.

Certain microplastics are also excluded from the restrictions, either in their pure form or within mixtures:

  • Microplastics that do not release microplastics or minimize releases.
  • Microplastics that undergo permanent modifications during use, rendering them no longer considered microplastics.
  • Microplastics that are permanently incorporated into a matrix.

Next Steps: The restrictions were officially published in the Official Journal of the European Union on September 25, 2023, and will formally take effect on October 17, 2023. The specified timelines for various product categories apply as outlined below.

  • Starting on October 17, 2023, for standalone microplastics and intentionally added microplastics (e.g., loose glitter).
  • Commencing on October 17, 2027, for the use of microplastics in rinse-off cosmetic products.
  • Beginning on October 17, 2028, for the use of microplastics in detergents, waxes, polishes, air care products, fertilizing products outside the scope of Regulation (EU) 2019/1009, and products for agricultural and horticultural uses.
  • Starting on October 17, 2029, for the use of microplastics in the encapsulation of fragrances, leave-on cosmetic products, and medical devices within the scope of Regulation (EU) 2017/745.
  • Commencing on October 17, 2031, for the use of microplastics in plant protection products, biocidal products, and granular infill for synthetic sports surfaces.
  • Beginning on October 17, 2035, for the use of microplastics in lip products, nail products, and makeup. It’s important to note that, starting eight years from the restriction’s entry into force and until the end of the transition period, suppliers of these products must include the statement “This product contains microplastics” on the label, packaging, or package leaflet.

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The UK enforced a world-leading ban on the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads in June 2018.