EU Implements groundbreaking legislation to curb microplastics

In a move aimed at curbing plastic pollution, the European Union (EU) has rolled out new legislation, Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/2055, to regulate synthetic polymer microparticles, commonly known as microplastics.

This progressive regulation, effective from October 17, 2023, falls under Annex XVII of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals), marking a significant milestone in the battle against plastic pollution.

Understanding Microplastics

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that make their way into the environment. They are solid plastic particles composed of polymers and functional additives found in a wide range of products, including cosmetics, detergents, artificial sports surfaces, medical devices, paints, and toys. To be classified as synthetic polymer microparticles under this regulation, they must meet specific criteria:

  • 1. They must constitute at least 1% of the particles' content.
  • 2. They must be smaller than 5 mm for all dimensions or less than 15 mm in length with a length-to-diameter ratio greater than 3.

Exemptions and Restrictions

The EU's regulation sets several crucial exemptions and restrictions to tackle the issue effectively:

  • 1. Certain microplastics permanently incorporated into solid matrices, used for industrial purposes, or contained by technical means and not released into the environment are exempt from the regulation.
  • 2. Medicinal products, veterinary medicinal products, in vitro diagnostic devices, and food additives are also excluded from the regulation.
  • 3. Suppliers of microplastics for industrial use must provide specific information starting from October 17, 2025, regarding their use and disposal.
  • 4. Products containing microplastics permanently incorporated into solid matrices or contained by technical means are required to provide instructions to professional users and the general public on preventing microplastics from entering the environment, starting from October 17, 2025, for certain products, and from October 17, 2026, for in vitro diagnostic devices.
  • 5. Manufacturers of lip, nail, and make-up products containing microplastics must label their products as "This product contains microplastics" from October 17, 2031, to October 16, 2035. Products already on the market before October 17, 2031, have until December 17, 2031, to bear this label.
  • 6. Manufacturers, importers, and industrial users of microplastics in the form of pellets, flakes, and powders must provide information to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) annually, starting from 2026. Other manufacturers and industrial users using microplastics at industrial sites must do the same starting from 2027.
  • 7. Suppliers must provide information to the ECHA if they introduce microplastics, which are permanently incorporated into solid matrices, for the first time for professional users and the general public, starting from May 31, 2027, and annually thereafter.
  • 8. Manufacturers, importers, and industrial users of products containing polymers exempted from the designation of microplastics due to degradability or solubility must prove this in accordance with specific regulations.

Implications of the Regulation

This comprehensive regulation marks a significant step forward in the EU's ongoing efforts to combat plastic pollution and its detrimental effects on the environment. By placing restrictions on the use of microplastics and providing guidelines for their responsible use and disposal, the EU aims to reduce the environmental impact of these harmful particles.

The regulation's phased implementation allows businesses and industries to adapt to the new requirements progressively. This transition period enables stakeholders to find sustainable alternatives to non-biodegradable microplastics, which will ultimately contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment.

The European Commission is also working on a Q&A document to help with the practical implementation of these rules, expected to be released by the end of 2023. This document will provide further clarity and guidance on the application of the microplastics restriction.