ECHA Proposes New Microplastics Regulation: An extension of REACH

ECHA Proposes New Microplastics Regulation: An extension of REACH

If your business retails or manufactures products from synthetic materials, such as textiles and clothing, there could be new European microplastics regulation on the horizon.

The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is reviewing a proposal calling for the extension of REACH regulation to cover the intentional addition of microplastics to all consumer and professional goods. Approval of the proposal is not guaranteed, however the proposal is further evidence of the growing public awareness of the potential risks associated with microplastics, and efforts by decision makers to regulate and restrict their use.


The issue of microplastics

Although the growth in public awareness of microplastics is fairly recent, knowledge of their existence, and their potential environmental consequences, dates back at least 15 years. The risks associated with microplastics are caused largely by their small size (<5mm in any dimension) which makes them readily consumable to biota, and difficult to capture and remove from pollution pathways (e.g. effluent treatment plants). Despite a long-term and growing awareness of issues related to microplastics, action to minimise their release is in its infancy, and current estimates suggest that between 70,000 and 200,000 tonnes of microplastics are released every year globally.


Purpose of the microplastics regulation

Microplastics fall into two camps; those which are intentionally added to a product (‘primary microplastics), and those which are formed by the abrasion and weathering of larger materials (‘secondary microplastics’). If successful, the proposed regulation made to the ECHA would affect all primary microplastics.

In defining the parameters of any potential regulation, ECHA explore the potential criteria by which a material can be defined as a microplastic:

  • Substance identity. Microplastics must be synthetic, as those which naturally occur are inherently (bio)degradable. Synthetic materials are not restricted to traditional ‘plastics’ (e.g. PE, PU), and instead cover all synthetic polymer-based materials.
  • Physical state. ECHA is currently of the opinion that a microplastic is primarily related to materials in a solid state, although the extent to which this applies to materials that are semi-solid is under continued investigation.
  • Morphology. The presence of polymer particles is currently viewed as a key feature of a microplastic, and ECHA define a particle as a “minute piece of matter with defined physical boundaries”. It is recognised that particles can occur with various morphologies (e.g. bead, flake, fibre), and all could potentially be classified as a microplastic.
  • Dimensions. It is this issue which has been subject to considerable debate in recent years. ECHA suggest that the upper limit be set at 5mm, and continue to debate whether a lower limit needs to be set. It is possible that lower limits will be between 1 and 100 nanometres, although the microscale has not yet been ruled out.

The proposal states that a material can only be classified as a microplastic if it satisfies the restrictions set by all four of these criteria. As such, ECHA has adopted the following ‘working definition’ of a microplastic: “any polymer, or polymer-containing, solid or semi-solid particle having a size of 5mm or less in at least one external dimension”.

Regardless of whether ECHA implement the proposed microplastic regulations, it is clear that the microplastics issue will continue to receive scrutiny over the coming years, and it is likely that proposals to restrict and regulate their use will become more widespread.


Microplastics Testing for Microfibre Shedding from Product

Is your company fully aware of the risks of microplastic pollution of your products?

Brands, retailers and manufacturers can verify the quantity of microplastic pollution from synthetic products and materials through microplastics testing.

Eurofins | BLC offer a range of testing and consultancy services which can help your business manage the risk of microplastic pollution, including:

  • Testing for the quantities of microfibre shredding a product or sample will release into water bodies.
  • Providing support in the interpretation test results, and analyse where the risk is for your synthetic product.
  • Providing guidance on how to minimise the risks posed by microplastics and microfibres.


Read More About Microplastics Testing


Discuss your testing and consulting needs with a microplastics expert at Eurofins | BLC by emailing [email protected], call +44 (0)1604 679 999 or complete the web form at the bottom of this page.

5 February 2019

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