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Restriction of microplastic and pellet losses

The sale of products with added microplastic or products that release microplastic during use is gradually being banned in the EU. In the first step, the sale of cosmetics with loose glitter or micro-beads, has already been prohibited. For other products – for example plastic granules that are used on sports grounds – transitional periods apply. Also under preparation are regulations from the European Commission on the limitation of pellet losses in the plastics-processing companies as can occur, for example, during the transport of plastic granules.

The EU Commission aims to combat environmental pollution by microplastics as part of the European Green Deal and to tackle its plan of action for the circular economy by introducing a variety of measures. By the year 2030, the aim is to reduce microplastic pollution by 30%. For this, the Commission is setting out from various points, and is working on reducing contamination by microplastic from different sources. This includes the accidental and unintentional release such as the loss of plastic granules in processing plants and the intentional use of microplastic in products. On the basis of a scientific appraisal submitted by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the Commission drew up the regulation to restrict microplastics as part of the REACH regulation. Following approval by the European Parliament and the European Council, the regulation came into force in mid-October: In a first step, there is a ban since then on the sale of cosmetics with loose glitter or microbeads. Also, according to the regulations, detergents, fertilisers and crop protection products, toys and medicinal products may no longer contain microplastic. For other products, a transition period is in place, during which the companies should switch to microplastic-free manufacture. According to figures from the EU Commission, the most microplastic in Europe is discharged into the environment from sports grounds that have artificial turf. Here, the ban will come into force after eight years so that the operators of the facilities have enough time to switch to alternatives.
Stricter rules for the handling of plastic granules are also to be introduced, for which the EU Commission submitted a draft in mid-October 2023. The raw material used for the production of most plastics is in pellet form. Many of the pellets are below five millimetres in size, and are therefore classified by the EU Commission as microplastic that can get into the environment for example through losses during transport or handling. According to figures from the Commission, between 52,000 and 184,000 tonnes of plastic pellets enter the eco system every year. In order to prevent such discharges, manufacturers must, according to the proposed regulations, in future ensure that no plastic granules from production are discharged into the environment and that they tighten up their precautionary measures accordingly. The measures are based, according to the draft, on established methods of handling that are already being used, especially on the voluntary program Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) deployed by plastics producers in Europe and the Recommendation of the parties that have signed the agreement on protecting the marine environment of the OSPAR-convention. Producers in Europe are now to be obliged, with the EU regulation, to draw up risk reports and to list and implement measures with which discharges of pellets into the environment are avoided. If leakages nevertheless occur, the companies are to be held responsible for the cleaning-up work. The proposed regulations make fewer demands on small and very small companies than on large producers. According to the proposal, large companies should have their measures to avoid pellet losses confirmed by independent certification, but with small companies, a self-declaration will be sufficient. Also covered by the proposal are all plants that transport more than five tonnes of plastic pellets a year as well as haulage companies that transport pellets. All procedures connected with pellets such as production, masterbatching and compounding, conversion, waste management including recycling, sales, repackaging, transport, storage and cleaning are all included in the proposed legislation. The Commission's proposal has been passed on to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers.

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