At the end of August, the European Commission published a draft regulation to address microplastics added into products. This November, the European Parliament and Council will decide on its adoption. While the draft regulation is incomplete and misses key measures aimed at handling the microplastics issue, Seas At Risk welcomes the forward-thinking proposal and encourages Parliament and Council to adopt it swiftly.

The proposed regulation would restrict microplastics, finally fulfilling the EU’s 2018 pledge to cut plastic pollution. This will mark an important first step in stemming the plastic pollution problem at the source, and pave the way for more comprehensive regulations in the future.

Because of their size – 5 millimeters or smaller – microplastics are hard to monitor. Tiny, lightweight, easily-dispersed and nearly undetectable, microplastics enter the environment every time we use products that contain them. Glittery cosmetics, stain-resistant paints and tough cleaning products are just some of the ways these pervasive particles end up in the environment – at least 42,000 tonnes each year. Microplastics are showing up worldwide, even in regions we consider remote or pristine. As they degrade, they release greenhouse gasses like ethylene and methane, both more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), thus amplifying climate change.

Microplastic pollution is widespread and toxic for us and our environment, as every day we are exposed to a cocktail of chemical additives. We support all efforts to tackle the problem at the source, i.e. the design and production of plastic products. Our members are especially concerned with microplastic sources from tyres, or geosynthetics used in construction or agriculture, which easily degrade in the open environment and are often in contact with water or the sea.

Lengthy transition periods, minimal pellet reporting requirements, and too many industry  exceptions weaken the impact of the regulation on in-product microplastics. As it stands, the proposed regulation will grant cosmetics and nail polish producers up to 12 years to phase out these plastics. Member States have already started voicing concerns with the proposal’s complexity and fear that enforcing the regulation will prove difficult.

What’s next? Once the EU Parliament and Council adopt this draft, we can expect more ambitious and airtight policy in the upcoming proposal that will target microplastics lost unintentionally, through degradation of larger plastics and shedding from textiles. EU policy can tackle microplastic pollution if the political will is there to be ambitious. Our recent publication shows that policy solutions already exist.

The impacts of microplastics on marine life and marine environment are clear and profound. Both the European Parliament and Council need to turn off the tap on endless microplastic emissions and transition our economy to more eco-conscious design.