Microplastics: Gathering information
What is the current status regarding a restriction of microplastics?
Jan Van der Meulen: Last November the European Commission has requested ECHA to look if a restriction is possible for what are called ‘intentionally added microplastics’. Intentionally added microplastic particles are known to be used in a range of products placed on the EU market, such as in certain cosmetics and personal care products, detergents and cleaning products, paints, products used in the oil and gas industry and as media for abrasive blasting. Microplastic particles in these products can function as an abrasive (e.g. exfoliating and polishing agents in cosmetics known as microbeads) but can also have other functions, such as to control viscosity, appearance and stability.
Intentionally added microplastic particles can be released to the environment during the use of these products (typically via wastewater), potentially contributing to environmental litter and leading to a concern that their use may pose a risk to the environment and/or human health. Prompted by these concerns, several EU Member States have proposed national bans on the intentional use of microplastics in certain consumer products, principally uses of ‘microbeads’ in ‘rinse-off’ cosmetic products.
What is CEPE’s opinion on the issue?
- Jan van der Meulen
Managing Director CEPE
Van der Meulen: In only a small portion of the portfolio of water-borne paints these microplastics (beads or fibres) are added to the paint formulation to obtain certain properties for the application of paint (ease of brushing or rolling) or for final properties in the paint film e.g. matt appearance; scratch resistance, bridging over cracks in walls. The focus is on if the use of intentionally added microplastics pose a threat to the aquatic environment.
This raises the question if the microplastic finds a pathway to the water and if its presence in the water would have any adverse effects. By far most of the paint finds its way to the intended surface where it dries and so embeds the microplastic particle in a dried paint layer. It is however recognised that there is a small fraction of the wet water-borne paint volume that may find its pathway to waste water when users clean their brush or roller under the tap. And CEPE would argue that this is theoretically only a few tons.
What will be the next steps of the Task Force Microplastics?
Van der Meulen: In line with their assignment ECHA has now launched what they call ‘a call for evidence’, in that stakeholders are requested to gather information or comment on:
- A working definition for intentionally added microplastics
- The specific uses of intentionally microplastics in products
- The technical function provided by the microplastic particles in products
- Potential alternatives to the use of microplastic particles in products
On behalf of the paint industry, the CEPE task force is preparing its answers and comments on these items.