FAQ on the EU microplastics ban

Christopher McClure, Jen Baker, Elise Laarman
1/4/2024
FAQ on the EU microplastics ban

In light of the recently passed EU microplastics ban, what do you need to know, and how does it affect your company’s compliance goals? Specialists on our ESG team address your FAQ.

The European Union (EU) continues to lead in product and chemical compliance. The European Chemicals Agency recently announced a ban on all synthetic polymer particles under five millimeters in size that are organic, insoluble, and resist degradation. This broad definition of microplastics captures everything from glitter in cosmetics and art supplies to microbeads in soaps and infill material used to support synthetic turf. Specialists on our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) team offer insight on what companies need to know about the EU microplastics ban, including how it might affect their compliance programs. 

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What is the EU doing to reduce microplastics being released into the environment?

The EU microplastics ban will require companies to stop adding microplastics to their products and switch to safer alternatives. The new rule is estimated to prevent the release of about half a million tons of microplastics into the environment. It has a rolling implementation with deadlines for the phaseout of microplastics in specified products. Some aspects of the microplastics ban are already in effect.

Below are the deadlines for microplastic phaseout in certain products:

  • Oct. 17, 2023: Loose glitter
  • 2027: Rinse-off cosmetics
  • 2028: Detergents, waxes, polishes, nonexcluded fertilizers, and certain horticultural and agricultural products
  • 2029: Fragrances, leave-on cosmetics, and medical devices
  • 2031: Plant protection products, biocidal products, and synthetic turf infill
  • 2035: Lip, nail, and makeup products

Additionally, suppliers of lip, nail, and makeup products will have to include the statement “This product contains microplastics” on the label, packaging, or package leaflet starting in 2031 until the effective microplastics ban in 2035.

Products with microplastics not expected to be released into the environment (such as industrial products in closed systems) are not banned. However, manufacturers are required to provide instructions on proper use and disposal. Products already regulated under other EU legislation, such as medicinal products, food, and animal feed, are also excluded from the restriction.

How are microplastics released into the environment?

Microplastics come in two forms. Some can be intentionally produced for certain purposes, such as microbeads for exfoliation in skin care, plaque abrasion in toothpaste, or maintaining paint viscosity. These are known as primary microplastics. When these products are wiped off with a towel, sent down the drain, or sanded off, the microplastics remain intact and infiltrate water supply systems and the environment in general. Microplastic production itself and the waste created through its manufacturing can have this same effect.

Alternatively, secondary microplastics can occur when larger plastic items (such as water bottles or nylon clothing) are broken down. “Broken down” does not have to mean sitting in a landfill, though microplastics are released this way. Cutting a plastic bag in half with scissors, washing and drying polyester clothing, or walking over synthetic carpet can all release microplastics into individual homes and the wider environment.

Microplastics have been found everywhere from the Antarctic to human cells and tissues. They pose a threat to human health and the environment simply because they are foreign objects; however, they can also absorb toxic chemicals such as heavy metals or pesticides and carry those pollutants wherever they go. 

How does the microplastics ban fit in with the larger efforts regarding plastic pollution?

The microplastics ban is the EU’s latest effort in reaching its broader environmental goals. Launched in December 2019, the European Green Deal laid out a series of policy initiatives that aim to achieve EU climate neutrality by 2050. The initiatives cover a variety of topics affected by climate change, including waste and chemicals.

Microplastics regulation is part of the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) and Zero Pollution Action Plan (ZPAP), two initiatives under the European Green Deal. CEAP established the EU’s plastics strategy to tackle plastic pollution and transition to a resource-efficient plastics economy. Additionally, the ZPAP calls for a reduction in air, water, and soil pollution to levels no longer considered harmful to health and natural ecosystems by 2050. Key 2030 targets of both action plans include reducing microplastics released into the environment by 30%. 

The U.S. has also made efforts to reduce plastic pollution through product compliance, including the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads. On April 21, 2023, the Biden administration announced the creation of the Interagency Policy Committee on Plastic Pollution and a Circular Economy. The committee intends to coordinate federal efforts on plastic pollution and prioritize public health. That same day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the "Draft National Strategy to Prevent Plastic Pollution" to identify strategies for reducing plastic waste. 

What do these measures mean for the future of compliance?

Companies that produce products with microplastics should begin a reasonable inquiry into their organizations to determine whether the EU microplastics ban will affect them. It is more important than ever for companies to know exactly what is in their products and to facilitate an easy data transfer to their trusted suppliers. Companies should also consider planning foreseeable next actions on additional plastic waste regulation in the EU and around the world.

The EU’s proposed ban on plastic pellets is a good example of potential forthcoming requirements. Because reducing plastic waste is a key part of the European Green Deal, companies can expect additional measures on plastics that feature extended producer responsibility.

Overall, initiatives such as the EU microplastics ban, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances reporting and restrictions, and the addition of persistent organic pollutants to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 inventory show that creating compliance plans on an ad hoc basis is an outdated approach. After years of trial and error, environmental regulations are becoming more prescriptive and incredibly detailed.

Regulatory compliance can often be an afterthought of product development. But as new legal requirements are written with specificity down to the molecular level of your product, now is the time to remediate unknowns in your current supply chain and prioritize responsible sourcing for all future additions.

Find even more ESG-related information in our ESG resource center.

Contact us

If you’re looking for more guidance on what the EU’s microplastics ban means for your company, our integrated ESG team can help. See how we can work with you on your compliance goals.
Chris McClure - social
Christopher McClure
Partner, ESG Services Leader
Jennifer Baker
Jen Baker
Advisory
Elise Laarman
Elise Laarman
Advisory