EU moves to ban microplastics equivalent to ‘six times Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ each year

'The EU is rapidly becoming a leader in the global culture shift away from wasteful plastic'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 30 January 2019 17:02 GMT
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The EU is planning to ban 90 per cent of microplastics that are added to products, including cosmetics, detergents and paints.

Every year Europe releases a quantity of microplastics equivalent to six times the waste floating in the famous “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” .

Under the new draft laws proposed by the European Chemicals Agency (Echa), 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution would be cut in the space of two decades.

Tiny fragments of plastic have been viewed as a significant threat to sea creatures as they wash off and find their way into marine ecosystems.

Microplastics have been found everywhere from deep ocean trenches to Arctic sea ice, and once they enter the environment, these pollutants can persist for thousands of years.

The UK implemented a more limited ban on microplastics last year, covering personal care products including face washes and toothpastes.

Echa say the measures, which are expected to come into law by 2020, are more comprehensive in their coverage of unnecessary plastics in consumer items.

“The EU is rapidly becoming a leader in the global culture shift away from wasteful plastic,” said Elise Vitali, chemicals policy officer for the European Environmental Bureau.

“Microplastic is one of those vast but largely invisible problems; a menace all around and in us.

“It was fed by irresponsible firms, such as those making personal care products that decided to swap out natural ingredients like ground almond, coconut shell and olive seed for plastic microbeads.”

The proposed ban is part of the EU plastics strategy that saw Europe introduce expansive bans on single-use plastic including plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds by 2021.

A spokesperson from Echa said whether or not the new regulations will extend to the UK depend on the outcome of Brexit, and are "an unknown for now".

NGOs welcomed the new move, although they said it granted too long a period for sectors to comply with the ban. Most products will be given between two and six years to phase out the plastic fragments.

The proposal will now undergo consultation before facing a vote at the beginning of 2020.

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