On September 1, 2020, the non-governmental organization European Environmental Bureau (EEB) announced the publication of an analysis strongly criticizing the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) restriction proposal for intentionally added microplastics in consumer and professional products. EEB’s analysis concludes that lobbying from industry associations has led ECHA to “overrul[e] warnings from its own experts to greatly weaken its proposed microplastic ban.” It criticizes the agency’s actions to increase the defined size of microplastics by a factor of 100 and points to the agency’s own Risk Assessment Committee’s (RAC) published opinion on the restriction, which says that “increasing the lower size limit to 100nm may lead to regrettable substitution to particles with smaller size, potentially compromising the effectiveness of the proposed restriction. The toxicity of particles is expected to increase with the reduction of its size linked to an increase in the surface/volume ratio.”

Further, EEB is concerned about several extended time periods for phasing in the restriction across product groups and for an exemption of ‘biodegradable’ plastic. EEB argues that such plastic “does not degrade in some real world conditions, giving a false solution a reassuring but misleading stamp of approval.” Instead, “NGOs oppose this exemption as even microplastics that are considered to degrade in the environment are able to harm aquatic life, arguing instead for a shift away from throw-away plastic and towards reusable alternatives.”

On the same day, ECHA published a press release defending the updates it made to the restriction proposal following public consultation. The press release argues that “all modifications that have been made are based on solid arguments and evidence received during a six-month consultation of stakeholders, which ran from March to September 2019.” In a supporting Q&A document, the agency writes that the size limit for the definition of a microplastic has been increased from 1 nm to 100 nm based on a lack of “analytical techniques that could be used to identify, characterize and quantify nanoscale ‘microplastic’ particles in complex mixtures.” Without these analytical techniques, the agency is unable to enforce the restriction. It further says that it has identified “very few uses of microplastics in which the particles are smaller than 100 nm.”

Peter van der Zandt, the agency’s director for risk management, further commented that “we want to make sure that our far-reaching and ground-breaking proposal is workable, so that its undoubted benefits can be realized. The proposed restriction is estimated to reduce the emission of intentionally added microplastics in the environment by at least 500 000 tonnes over the next 20 years. Our updated proposal actually increases the reduction of emissions in absolute volumes compared to the original proposal. I can reassure our stakeholders that any changes made during the process are unbiased and justified by robust evidence.”

ECHA submitted the original restriction proposal in January 2019 (FPF reported), and it has since been working its way through a standardized review and commenting process.

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Jack Hunter (September 1, 2020). “EU microplastics ban set to make a growing problem worse.” European Environmental Bureau

ECHA (September 1, 2020). “Working on the world’s broadest restriction of intentional uses of microplastics.”

Clelia Oziel (September 3, 2020). “Echa rebuked for ‘badly warped’ microplastics restriction proposal.” Chemical Watch

Clelia Oziel (September 15, 2020). “Tougher EU microplastics ban possible by targeting raw materials – Echa.” Chemical Watch