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European Union bans intentional use of microplastics in food.

The European Commission has made law a set of measures aimed at combatting microplastic pollution. What do these new regulations involve, when will they be enforced, and what implications will they have for both industries and consumers?

From the deepest ocean trenches to the highest mountain peaks, microplastics have been found in all parts of the globe, infiltrating our food, water, and even human blood and stool. The United Nations asserts that our seas contain more microplastics than there are stars in the galaxy.


Microplastics that travel through air, water, and soil, are hard to kill. Once introduced into the environment, they resist biodegradation and removal, lingering for centuries. This longevity poses a significant threat to wildlife and, inevitably, infiltrates the food chain, ultimately finding its way into the human body.


These tiny plastic particles serve various purposes, functioning as abrasive elements in toothpaste or exfoliants and as binders altering liquid consistency. The intentional incorporation of an estimated 42,000 tons of microplastics into products annually in the European Union raises concerns about their impact on human health, which remains largely unknown.


Johanna Bernsel, spokesperson for the European Commission, emphasizes the critical need to halt the continuous release of microplastics into the environment.


microscopic photo of plastic found in a soil and water sample



Which products will fall under the ban?

The newly implemented ban, including all organic, insoluble synthetic polymer particles measuring less than five millimeters and resistant to degradation, will impact a wide range of items.


These include cosmetics, detergents, glitter, fertilizers, plant protection items, toys, medicines, food, medical devices, and artificial sports surfaces.


Products exempt from the ban include construction materials containing microplastics that do not release them, as well as items used exclusively at industrial sites.


However, manufacturers must annually report their estimated microplastic emissions and provide instructions on product use and disposal to prevent microplastics from entering the environment.


Importantly, the ban applies not only to products manufactured within the European Union but also to those imported from other regions.


Johanna Bernsel noted, "So in that sense, it promotes the innovativeness of the European industry."



Famara Beach, Lanzarote. 680 miles off the coast of Spain


How feasible is it to find alternatives?


According to Marc Kreutzbruck, the head of the Institute of Plastics Engineering at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, finding substitutes that match the effectiveness of plastic in achieving climate goals is a challenging task.


He pointed out, "Unfortunately, that's the reality because plastics are a material that can be shaped at very low temperatures."


Comparatively, other materials such as metal, ceramic, glass, or alternatives demand significantly more energy to be transformed into products.


Kreutzbruck emphasized the importance of focusing on recycling and sustainability as the way forward. "We need to achieve 100% recycling. Plastic is not disposable; it's a valuable material that needs to be collected and recycled. This mindset must be instilled in people," he concluded.


Another approach involves the use of biodegradable plastics designed to break down rapidly upon entering the environment. However, their current market share remains at a mere fraction of a percent, and as Marc Kreutzbruck noted, they are not universally applicable, especially for intricate products like food packaging.


According to European Commission spokesperson Bernsel, addressing this challenge will necessitate a collaborative effort involving policymakers, industry stakeholders, and the research community to devise sustainable alternatives.


She expressed optimism that the ban will serve as a catalyst for such innovation.

"We believe the future of the chemicals industry is to emphasize sustainability and sustainable alternatives.


So, this is an opportunity for the European industry to be at the forefront of the development towards more sustainability and innovation. That's how we can keep our competitive edge," Bernsel emphasized.


Rubber residue from tires are another form of microplastics


The EU may take additional measures to address unintentional releases of microplastics, such as those from clothes during washing or from car tires.


Johanna Bernsel expresses hope that the new regulations might serve as inspiration for other global regions to consider similar actions.


She noted, "Of course, we cannot dictate measures for other countries or regions in the world. But setting an example on environmental matters has proven very successful in other areas in the past."



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