Status: 28.09.2023, 07:17 a.m.
By: Vivian Werg
Microplastics will be banned in the future. The measures of the EU regulation will come into force in October. This also affects a number of cosmetic products, such as sunscreens.
Munich – Small particles, big danger: Once in the environment, microplastics can be transported over long distances. It has already been found in lakes, rivers and seas. As a study by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) showed, the smallest particles can be transported far through the air – even much faster than water.
We also take it daily in low doses. Dutch researchers found microplastic particles in human blood for the first time in 2022. In a British study, on the other hand, microplastics were detected in eleven out of thirteen lungs of living people. The plastic particles are so small that we hardly see them. We come into contact with them much more often than we think. The sale of microplastics in a wide variety of areas is now gradually being banned. As the EU Commission announced in a press release on Monday (25 September), measures have now been adopted that "prohibit both the sale of microplastics and products to which microplastics have been deliberately added".
The sale of microplastics will be banned in the EU in the future – cosmetic products in particular will be affected (symbolic image) © Imago
New EU regulation to protect the environment: microplastics in scrubs, creams and detergents
"A ban on deliberately added microplastics addresses a serious problem for the environment and people's health. Microplastics are found in the oceans, rivers and on land, as well as in food and drinking water. Today's restriction affects very small particles, but it is a big step towards reducing man-made pollution," said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius in the communication.
The ban covers all synthetic polymer particles in a size range of less than five millimeters that are organic, insoluble and difficult to degrade. The EU Commission cites the following examples as common products:
- Granular material used on artificial sports surfaces – the largest source of consciously used microplastics in the environment.
- Cosmetics, such as scrubs or glitter, where microplastics are used for a variety of purposes, such as exfoliation of the skin (microbeads) or achieving a specific texture, fragrance or color. Plastic beads, which can be found in cosmetics and care products, are usually made of polyethylene (PE).
- Conventional sunscreens and creams often contain plastic compounds (acrylates, crosspolymer ACS). In sunscreen, it serves as a thickener and film former. If the substance enters oceans and lakes during bathing, it can accumulate in the food chain. In creams, ACS provides a supple feeling.
- In shampoo, polyquaternium (PQ) prevents pulling by placing a plastic film around the hair.
- The smallest plastic particles can also be found in many fabric softeners and detergents. Here, polyethylene (PE) is used to produce the gel-like consistency of liquid detergents.
- Microplastics are also contained in fertilizers, pesticides, toys, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
- Source: EU-Commission, Utopia,de, BR.de, NDR.de
Products that are used at industrial sites or do not release microplastics during use are exempt from the sales ban. However, according to the EU Commission, manufacturers must provide instructions on how to use and dispose of the product.
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First EU bans in October: How to recognize microplastics in cosmetic products
The measures will be implemented gradually. For example, the first products such as microbeads or loose glitter may no longer be sold as early as 15 October. In other cases, such as granules on sports fields, on the other hand, may remain for up to eight years to give owners and operators time to develop and switch to alternatives.
As the organization writes Bund.net, plastics in cosmetology serve as exfoliating particles, binders and fillers in shower gels, shampoos, creams and decorative cosmetics. It is often difficult to tell whether a product contains microplastics or not. The health insurance company AOK has summarized the most common plastics in cosmetics:
It is best to dispose of the contents of the products that have already been purchased that contain microplastics in the residual waste so that they can no longer be released into the environment. The packaging, in turn, is placed in the recycling bin for further material recycling.
EU wants to significantly reduce microplastic pollution by 2030
A total of 42,000 tonnes of microplastics are released annually in the EU. According to an EEA report on health and the environment, air pollution causes more than 400,000 premature deaths (including from cancer) in the EU every year.
In the Zero Pollution Action Plan, the Commission has set a target of reducing microplastic pollution by 2030 percent by 30. (Vivian Werg)