23 March 2018
Microplastic Particles in Products: ECHA Calls for Evidence Concerning Intentional Uses
Upon request of the European Commission, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently conducting an investigation into microplastic particles (also known as microbeads) intentionally added to or released from products as part of the Commission’s recently-adopted Plastics Strategy. The investigation aims to assess potential risks of all possible intentional uses of microplastic particles and the socio-economic impacts of potential restrictions.
Some among the Hong Kong business community exporting their goods to the EU may know that intentional uses of microbeads occur in cosmetics and personal care products such as make-up, moisturisers or toothpaste, as well as in cleaning products, detergents and paints. In cosmetics, microbeads typically function as abrasives (as exfoliating or polishing agents) and may also serve to control texture and appearance.
During the use of products containing microbeads, the particles can be released into the environment, typically via wastewater. Microplastics are typically insoluble, not biodegradable and therefore considered to be of particular concern for the aquatic environment. Their potential impact on the environment and human health have generated concerns in Member States of the EU and worldwide.
On 1 March 2018, ECHA announced that it is seeking information from stakeholders to determine all intentional uses of microbeads in order to avoid unintentionally restricting them and to be able to consider the need for derogations. Therefore, ECHA is particularly interested in finding out uses in types of products other than those cited above.
The working definition of microplastic particles provided by ECHA includes “any polymer-containing solid or semi-solid particle having a size of 5mm or less in at least one external dimension”. The scope of the investigation is intentionally wide, neither limiting the product range nor the types of polymers. The investigation does not include, however, unintentional release of microbeads into the environment through abrasion or weathering. ECHA is most interested in finding out:
- the function of microbeads in products,
- their concentration and properties,
- possible alternatives, and
- their availability and respective risks.
ECHA also seeks information for its socio-economic impact assessment and on analytical methods for the detection and characterisation of microplastic particles.
Hong Kong companies may wish to take part in the call for evidence, which could lead to restrictions or even a ban on the use of microbeads. Information can be submitted via the ECHA website until 11 May 2018.
ECHA will prepare a report on the investigation, which may propose future regulatory measures. The report is not expected before January 2019.