9 March 2018
Sweden to Ban Microplastics in Some Cosmetics Products
On 1 February 2018, the Swedish government announced plans to ban the sale of rinse-off cosmetic products containing microplastics from July this year, to help reduce plastic marine litter. The ban, due to come into force on 1 July 2018, would apply to products such as toothpaste, body exfoliators, face scrubs, shower gels, shampoos and conditioners containing microplastics. The microplastics in such cases have been added in order to cleanse, exfoliate or polish.
However, products consisting solely of natural polymers - long molecules that have not been synthesised and that have not been chemically modified - are excluded from the ban.
Sweden joins other Member States, including France, the UK and Finland, which have initiated bans on microplastics. Stocks purchased before the ban comes into effect in Sweden may continue to be sold in shops until 1 January 2019.
“Adding microplastics to rinse-off cosmetic products is completely unnecessary,” Sweden’s environment minister, Karolina Skog, has stated. Ms. Skog added that: “It’s not the largest source of plastics in our oceans but it is a ‘low-hanging fruit’, and the ban is a necessary step towards reducing microplastics in water.”
The Swedish government maintains that rice grains and coconut shells are examples of ingredients that have an exfoliating effect, which can be used as an alternative to microplastics in cosmetic products, and are less harmful to the environment.
Mikhail Durkin, executive secretary at NGO Coalition Clean Baltic, commented that Sweden’s move to ban the use of microplastics in certain cosmetic products was a welcome step and a “positive sign to others”. Mr. Durkin added that “this is an important development that other Baltic countries might follow. It has only been Finland that has been on the same page as Sweden. All the other Baltic countries have been quite hesitant. Even Germany has not been ready to join this move.”
Mr. Durkin stressed that environment ministers from Baltic Sea countries are scheduled to meet in Brussels during March for the Helsinki Convention on the protection of the marine environment in the Baltic Sea area. He suggested that Sweden “probably” made the microplastics ban announcement now in order to prompt others to “make their own announcements” ahead of, or during, the expected meeting.
Ariadna Rodrigo, product policy campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, added: "We welcome the move to ban microplastics in rinse-off products by the Swedish government, but more needs to be done to them from entering the natural environment, like banning them on stay-on products like sun creams.” Ms. Rodrigo also called for the use of microplastics in “other products, such as paint or tyres” to be addressed.
The news of Sweden’s microplastics ban follows the recent publication of the European Commission’s plastics strategy, which sets out measures intended to curb plastic waste and improve recycling. It is the first ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics and is part of the EU’s focus on a circular economy. By 2030, all plastic packaging sold on the EU market should be recyclable or reusable in a cost-efficient manner.
In relation to microplastics, the strategy notes that several bans are under consideration by Member States. This could lead to fragmentation in the single market, and the Commission has therefore initiated the process towards establishing a ban on added microplastics at the European level by requesting the European Chemicals Agency to review the scientific basis for regulatory action under the REACH regulation.
Sweden wishes to take a leading role in combatting plastics. While Sweden welcomes the proposal in the European strategy to reduce amounts of single-use plastics, it wants to see tougher curbs on exports of waste to countries unable to guarantee sustainable recycling, as well as tougher requirements to ensure “non-toxic material lifecycles”.