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New report: Further restrictions are needed on microplastics in products

News 3/23/2018

To protect the environment there is a need for further restrictions on microplastics in cosmetic products and other chemical products. That is the conclusion from a new report by the Swedish Chemicals Agency. The Agency concludes that the continued work primarily should be carried out at EU level.

In February this year the Government of Sweden decided to ban microplastics in cosmetic products that are rinsed off or spat out. The ban, which is based on a previous report by the Swedish Chemicals Agency, will come into force on 1 July 2018. The restriction will apply to microplastics added to products such as body wash and toothpaste to obtain a cleansing, exfoliating or polishing effect.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency was tasked by the Government of Sweden to investigate whether microplastics are found in cosmetics and chemical products other than those covered by the coming ban. The aim was to investigate whether an extended ban on microplastics is needed in Sweden. The Agency has presented the findings of its investigation in a report that has been submitted to the government.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency intends to work for restrictions on microplastics in cosmetics and other chemical products to be introduced primarily at EU level. The European Commission has tasked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) with an investigation into such restrictions. The work at EU level to prepare a restriction proposal on microplastics under the REACH Regulation got under way in January of this year.

“The work being done at EU level has the potential to result in clear and uniform rules to help protect the environment from emissions of microplastics. We will take an active part in preparing proposals for EU regulation,” says Dag Lestander, an analyst involved in the investigation at the Agency.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency report also contains a proposal on how to design an extended ban in Sweden on microplastics in cosmetic products. The Agency estimates that between 0.2 and 4.4 tonnes of microplastics per year are emitted to the aquatic environment from cosmetic products sold in Sweden which are not covered by the ban that comes into effect this year. These products include certain types of skin cream, sunscreen and make-up such as lipstick, mascara and powder.

In the report, the Swedish Chemicals Agency estimates that other chemical products such as detergents probably contribute to a relatively small amount of microplastics emitted to the environment in Sweden. The amount is estimated to be 0.06 to 0.6 tonnes per year.

According to the report to the Government, the Swedish Chemicals Agency will take measures to help promote greater awareness of microplastics on the part of researchers, government authorities and industry, especially as regards the smallest types of microplastics used in cosmetics and other chemical products. The Swedish Chemicals Agency will also engage in dialogue with the industries in question with the aim of encouraging a greater level of ambition to replace microplastics on a voluntary basis in products such as cosmetics.

Read the report (in Swedish with an English summary on pages 11–12)

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Dag Lestander, analyst, +46 8 519 41 228

The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s press service, +46 8 519 41 200, press@kemi.se

E-mail addresses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s employees are written as follows: firstname.surname@kemi.se

Facts about microplastics

Microplastics are minute plastic particles that are broken down extremely slowly in the environment. According to the definition in the Swedish Chemicals Agency report, plastic particles shall be smaller than five millimetres and insoluble in water in order to count as microplastics. Microplastics that end up in lakes, watercourses and the sea risk having an adverse effect on aquatic organisms such as mussels, crustaceans and fish. When aquatic organisms are ingesting microplastics it may result in reduced food intake, infection and depleted energy stores. Microplastics can also contain hazardous substances that risk being absorbed by aquatic organisms.

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