Last September 25th, the European Commission made a significant move to safeguard our environment by adopting measures that restrict the sale of intentionally added microplastics in products, in accordance with EU chemical legislation (REACH). These new regulations (COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) 2023/2055) will prevent the release of approximately half a million tonnes of microplastics into the environment. They will prohibit the sale of both microplastics as standalone items and products that intentionally contain microplastics that are released during use. Exceptions and transitional periods will be applied where necessary to allow affected parties to adapt to the new rules.
The adopted restrictions use a broad definition of microplastics, encompassing all synthetic polymer particles smaller than five millimeters that are organic, insoluble, and resistant to degradation. The aim is to reduce intentional microplastic emissions from as many products as possible. Some common products covered by the restriction include:
- Granular filling material used in synthetic sports surfaces, according to the European Chemicals Agency the largest source of intentional microplastic pollution in the environment.
- Cosmetics, where microplastics are used for purposes such as exfoliation (microbeads) or achieving specific textures, fragrances, or colors.
- Detergents, fabric softeners, glitter, fertilizers, plant protection products, toys, medications, and medical devices, among others.
Products used in industrial settings or those that do not release microplastics during use are exempt from the sales ban. However, their manufacturers will have to provide instructions on how to use and dispose of the product to prevent microplastic emissions.
One of the materials affected by these measures is the granular filling used in synthetic sports surfaces, which, according to the European Commission, is “the largest source of intentional microplastics in the environment.” These fillings in sports pitches and children playgrounds are normally made from end-of-life tyres. This material ends up in the environment, largely in our seas and oceans, and has the potential to leach hazardous chemicals into the environment.
How are we studying this in the LabPlas project?
In the LabPlas Project, we are studying the chemical composition and biological effects of road and tyre-wear dust in a Spanish highway close to a drinking water reservoir, and we are mapping the hotspots of small, micro and nanoplastics (SMNP) and plastic additives in the European waters.
The insights obtained and tools developed in the LabPlas project will be used to assess the effectiveness of emission reduction measures. This presents a new opportunity over the next years to assess the impact of these materials in the environment and human health, and prevent those effects by tackling their sources, contributing to make the world more sustainable.