Wednesday [26 April], after a lengthy legislative process and heated discussions between national members, the REACH Committee voted in favour of a restriction of microplastics added into products.  

The European Commission proposed the restriction last autumn which includes promising efforts to progressively phase microplastics out of everyday products like cosmetics and cleaners, as well as those found in fertilizers, fragrances, paints and on artificial sports turfs. Seas At Risk has been following the development of the legislation for several years and welcomes the positive vote and the proposed restriction, despite its shortcomings.  

Since the Commission published its proposal, Seas At Risk and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have regularly advocated for a science-based favourable vote in the REACH Committee. Despite intense advocacy and extensive science-backed reasons not to, the Committee granted some industries lengthy transitional periods to act on the restriction. That is up to eight years for artificial sports turfs that use rubber infill, and up to 12 years for cosmetics products that use glitter, microbeads and other microplastics. For the ocean and freshwater, that means 12 more years of microplastic pollution. 

One positive step was taken to address marine pollution: including plastic pellets, powders and flakes in the restriction.  

Instead of an outright ban on pre-production plastics, the Committee is implementing binding reporting requirements and instructions for loss-free use, handling and disposal for plastic manufacturers and the rest of the supply chain (transportation, storage, and recycling). Industrial users will need to report annual pellet loss and educate users on loss-free pellet handling. Despite the restriction delaying action until 2026 and limiting its scope to industrial sites only (rather than the entire plastic supply chain), we welcome these binding steps.  

This restriction is the EU’s first step towards preventing the chronic loss of plastic production pellets into the environment. Seas At Risk and partner NGOs will continue pushing for more measures at both EU and international levels so that pellet users are targeted and bound to responsible management. 


More microplastics regulations ahead 

Before the official adoption of these restrictions, the European Parliament and Council will have a three-month scrutiny period, after which the Regulation will enter into force across Europe immediately. 

Closing the book on this long-winded chapter means the EU can use the REACH restriction as a basis for future regulations. This May, the European Commission is expected to propose measures to tackle microplastics released unintentionally, including pellets. The REACH restriction marks a major step in stemming the plastic pollution problem at some of its sources. If used correctly, it can help pave the way for more comprehensive and ambitious regulations in the future.