Less than a month left to say no to microplastics in our products in Europe


Surfrider Europe calls for a broad mobilisation of civil society and progressive stakeholders to respond to a European public consultation and to call for an ambitious and swift ban on intentionally added microplastics in a very large number of products in Europe.  

Microplastics are omnipresent in our daily lives and products 

Microplastics are commonly defined as plastic particles measuring less than five millimetres. Experts have distinguish between two types of microplastics: first, those intentionally being used as ingredients in a wide range of products. A well-known example would be the microbeads added by the cosmetic industry to scrubbing gels or even toothpaste. Unbeknown to us, these microplastics are added in a very large number of product ranges: make-up products, such as eye shadows, or lipsticks, but also creams or toothpaste, whether rinse-off products or not. They are also present in cleaning products, paints or even massively in agriculture (pesticides, for example) and in sports fields and other artificial turfs. And finally, there are microplastics resulting from the deterioration of other products such as textile fibres, from tyre abrasion, or the dispersion, loss or release of industrial plastic pellets in the environment.  

An unprecedented pollution resulting in several thousand billion particles in the ocean  

These microplastics, used as components or resulting from the abrasion of larger plastics, contribute, once in the environment, to the plastic pollution in the ocean and aquatic environments. They spread throughout the environment, get ingested by the marine fauna and ultimately end up on our plates, causing serious concerns for human health. Microplastic particles have also been found in large quantities in the beer we drink, in our fruit and vegetables, and in the air we breathe. Microplastics are everywhere: scientists have even found them in the Arctic snow and in the Alps, but also in the deep Mariana Trench. The ocean pollution is estimated between 12,000 and 125,000 billion microplastic particles, twice as much as previously thought. Recent studies have found that an average person would ingest and breathe in around 50,000 microplastic particles per year. 

Discussions around the ban on microplastic ingredients in the European Union 

Given the situation, a number of countries, in Europe and throughout the world, are either considering or already have implemented bans on microplastic components in certain products. However, in most cases, the restrictions only apply tomicrobeads and are often limited to so-called rinse-off cosmetic products such as scrubs. The scope of this legislation is limited because it only applies to a very small number of products, allowing industries to continue to pollute by using other nonrestricted microplastics in many of their products. With the full scope of the issue in mind, Surfrider Europe is fully committed to ensuring that the necessary measures are taken regarding intentionally and unintentionally added microplastics, i.e. those originating from textile fibres or from tyre abrasion.

Regarding the most absurd and easily avoidable pollution by microplastics, i.e. those deliberately introduced by manufacturers in their products, major progress can be achieved. Indeed, since 2010 and on numerous occasions, the European institutions have called for this massive source of pollution to be tackled. The European Commission has finally committed to do so in its Plastics Strategy of 2018, showing its determination to restrict intentionally added microplastics. Since then, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has been mandated to issue an opinion on the subject. The agency has two committees: the first one is the Risk Assessment Committee. It focuses on assessing the negative impacts on human health and the environment as part of substance restriction procedures. It has come out unequivocally in favour of a strong restriction recognising that microplastics constitute a source of persistent, irreversible and long-standing pollution for the environment. The second committee focuses on the socio-economic impact of possible legislation on chemical substances such as microplastics. 

© Richard KIRBY - Plancton et microplastiques
Exhibition "L'invisible devient visible" by Surfrider Art Campus

Launch of a European consultation on the restriction of microplastic components 

This second committee launched a public consultation open until 1st September. The issue at stake: to assess the social and economic impacts of an EU-wide restriction on microplastic ingredients added to a large number of products - from cosmetics to pesticides - if it were adopted. This evaluation will ultimately allow the agency to determine whether this restriction is justified but also desirable and feasible, and to define the conditions and timeframe. Based on the opinion and recommendations of the European agency ECHA, the final decision to propose a restriction on microplastic ingredients and to determine its scope will be taken by the European Commission. 

A consultation subject to aggressive lobbying by a segment of the industry 

Faced with the possibility of a ban on microplastic ingredients, part of the industry has taken steps to limit the impact of these potential measures on their products and business, at the expense of the environment and the health of their consumers. Their agenda? To ask for exemptions for their products, to limit the microplastics targeted by the restriction in order to continue to use just as many ever smaller plastic particles with even greater environmental and health risks, to argue that so-called biodegradable microplastics do not have the same impact and must be excluded from any restriction - against scientific evidence to the contrary, to call for a review of the timetable in order to continue to pollute a little longer. 

And yet, each year the restriction is delayed equals an additional: 

  • 3,600 tons of microplastics from cosmetics,
  • 8,500 tons of microplastics from cleaning products and detergents,
  • 10,000 tonnes of microplastics from products used in agriculture,
  • 16,000 tons of microplastics from sports turfs.  

Surfrider Europe calls for mobilisation 

Make some noise and engage people around you! Are you aware of companies that have committed to not using microplastics in their products? Actively invite them to respond to the ongoing European consultation until 1 September. Spread the message on your social media so that the European Commission hears the voice of citizens in favour of a strong and ambitious restriction and call for an end to the use of microplastics in all European products.  

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