Concerns about the accumulation of microplastics in the environment and their impact on human health1 have prompted the EU to propose several measures to restrict their use and formation from larger plastics. The most notable of these is the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) proposal to ban intentionally added microplastics. Originally proposed in 2019, the ban was adopted by the European Commission in the fall of 2023, subsequently adding microplastics to the REACH Regulation as a restricted substance.2
Measurlabs offers microplastic testing for nearly all types of materials and products, but also for food, water, and environmental samples, helping companies ensure that their products are compliant with the new microplastic ban as well as possible future regulations.
Two types of microplastics
In the new REACH restriction, microplastics are defined as solid polymer particles with maximum dimensions equal to or smaller than 5 mm, or length equal to or smaller than 15 mm in the case of fiber-like particles with a length-to-diameter ratio greater than three.3
Microplastics can be manufactured deliberately, such as for exfoliating beads in cosmetics, or they can form unintentionally when larger pieces of plastic break down. Those microplastics intentionally added to products, sometimes called primary microplastics, are the target of the new restrictions.
Secondary microplastics are particles that are degraded from bigger plastic products such as plastic containers, technical textiles, or other plastic products. These are not part of this new restriction.
Summary of the REACH amendment on microplastics
Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/2055 amends the REACH Regulation to prohibit the sale of microplastics and products to which microplastics have been added. Materials subject to the restriction must not contain microplastic particles in concentrations greater than 0.01% by weight.
Some of the industries affected by the ban on intentionally added microplastics include sports, beauty, health, agriculture, and construction materials. The first measures, including a ban on loose glitter and microbeads, entered into force on the 17th of October 2023. Other sales bans will come into force gradually to give companies the time to react and switch to alternatives.4
Timeline and products affected
As derogation periods are set in years from the amendment’s entry into force, new microplastic restrictions under REACH will always become applicable on the 17th of October of a given year. The ban will be enforced on the following product groups in the following years:
2023: Loose glitter and microbeads in product groups transitional periods do not apply to
2027: Rinse-off cosmetics
2028: Fertilizers, detergents, waxes, polishes, air care products, and miscellaneous agricultural and horticultural products
2029: Fragrances, leave-on cosmetics, and medical devices as defined by the EU MDR
2031: Plant protection products, granular infill used on synthetic sports surfaces
2035: Lip, nail, and other make-up products5
Some product groups are exempted from the ban. These include some in vitro medical devices, food additives, medicinal products, and microplastics used at industrial sites.
What does the change mean for companies?
To sell products in the EEA, companies must demonstrate their compliance with the new regulations. In practice, this often means having products tested to ensure they do not contain restricted microplastic particles. Another option is to prove that polymeric particles used in the product are biodegradable or soluble.6
What about unintentional microplastics?
The new rules only apply to the intentional use of microplastics, but EU regulators are also working on secondary microplastics. Work to curb the unintentional release of microplastics from items such as tires, textiles, and paints is ongoing through the Plastics Strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan.
The first concrete measure is an October 2023 proposal by the Commission to prevent microplastic pollution from plastic pellets.7 Companies should be aware that additional regulations are likely to be proposed in the upcoming years.
Microplastics analysis by EU regulations
Microplastics can be analyzed with several different analytical techniques. Measurlabs offers microplastic testing for a variety of sample materials using techniques such as µRaman and py-GC/MS. The new microplastics testing standard ISO 24187 can be taken into account, where applicable.
If you need microplastic testing or have any questions about the new European regulations, please contact us through the form below or at firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our experts will get back to you within one business day.
1 For two recent studies on possible health effects, see Environmental exposure to microplastics: An overview on possible human health effects by Joana Correia Prata, et. al., and The current status of studies of human exposure assessment of microplastics and their health effects: a rapid systematic review by Yong Min Cho and Kyung-Hwa Choi.
2 Microplastics topic from the European Chemicals Agency.
3 Annex to Regulation (EU) 2023/2055 amending the REACH Regulation as regards synthetic polymer microparticles.
4 The restrictions are laid out in the Annex to Regulation (EU) 2023/2055.
5 See Point 6. of the Annex to Regulation (EU) 2023/2055 for the dates of application.
6 The rules and criteria for biodegradability and solubility testing are outlined in Appendix 15, added to REACH by Regulation (EU) 2023/2055.
7 Information about the proposal to prevent microplastic pollution from plastic pellets on the Commission website.