EU’s detox pledge sabotaged by illegal delay to microplastics regulation
As of today, EU’s proposal to slash intentional microplastic pollution has been delayed by a whole year – jeopardising the European pledge for zero pollution and a toxic-free environment. Policy and legal experts at European Environmental Bureau and ClientEarth say this delay is illegal.
Under the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Act (REACH), the proposal to restrict intentionally added microplastic particles in everyday products was due in May 2021. One year later, the proposal is still missing. It is unclear when the most comprehensive European initiative on the omnipresent particles will see the light of day.
NGOs argue that the delay is illegal and leads to irreversible impacts on biodiversity and the environment and could potentially damage the health of Europeans.
According to REACH, the European Commission had the obligation to come up with its proposal for controlling microplastics three months after February 2021 when the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) released its science-based proposal for restricting the use of intentionally added microplastic particles to consumers or professional products of any kind. The latter invited decision-makers to defend an ambitious restriction and recommended the actions that the Commission and member states must take to secure this outcome.
NGOs also flag the failure of the Commission to ensure good administration, a duty enshrined in the EU Treaties and the legally-binding EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which requires the Commission to justify its actions and conduct work swiftly and transparently.
ClientEarth lawyer Hélène Duguy said:
“This restriction proposal has been sitting on the Commission’s desk for more than a year now, for no apparent reason. The delay is a clear breach of multiple legal obligations including the ones under REACH. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the EU has postponed decisive action on chemicals without any justification. Meanwhile, microplastics continue wreaking havoc on our environment.”
The delay, an NGOs analysis revealed, could have caused levels of pollution equivalent to the release of 1.6 billion plastic bottles into the environment every year. The EU reinforced its toxic-free and zero pollution pledge with a recent and widely publicised restriction roadmap, promising a swift ban on thousands of chemicals in everyday products.
Elise Vitali, policy officer for Chemicals at the European Environment Bureau (EEB) further emphasised that:
“Microplastics are far too serious an issue to be ignored. They are present in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the mountains we climb and the waters we swim in. Even the Arctic circle is contaminated with microplastics. The failure to make progress on this file brings into question the credibility of EU’s commitments on plastics and chemicals.”
The EU’s intention to restrict intentionally-added microplastics dates back to 2017 when the European Commission requested ECHA to prepare a restriction proposal. But five years later, without a restriction in sight, companies continue to add microplastics to products, unnecessarily exposing people and the environment to the potentially harmful chemicals that they contain.
Each year more than around 42,000 tonnes of microplastics end up in the environment. The largest single source of pollution is the granular infill material used on artificial turf pitches like football pitches and playgrounds, releasing up to 16,000 tonnes of microplastics a year. Also, microplastics are commonly used in fertilisers, laundry detergents and cosmetics among others.