Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic which can end up in the seas, causing potential damage to the environment: human behaviour is largely responsible for plastic pollution.
In recent years, young generations are asking for a more sustainable behaviour that concerned both private and business life. Sustainability is an action aimed at balancing the growing economy, environmental protection and social responsibility.
Each year, a significant proportion of plastic waste fragmenting into microplastics enters the environment together with human-made microplastics. Sources of microplastic pollution include textiles, tyres, general waste, products containing microplastics, and equipment/products used in fisheries, agriculture, and industry. They are also associated with long-term persistence in the environment, if released, as they are very resistant to (bio)degradation.
Whilst marine microplastic pollution has attracted the attention of both the public and policy makers, recent reports of the ubiquity of microplastics across the air, soil, sediments, freshwaters, plants, animals, and parts of the human diet, have amplified concerns. (Environmental and Health Risks of Microplastic Pollution, Scientific Opinion – European Commission).
Proposal for a regulatory definition of a microplastic under REACH
On 30 August 2022, the European Commission published its proposal to restrict the placing on the market of microplastics, increasing the size of particles covered and allowing a transition period of up to 12 years for certain products. The restriction will be adopted under the REACH Regulation, which establishes the EU chemicals framework. The European Commission has published its long-awaited proposal with some changes and clarifications to ECHA’s original proposal. The main points proposed are:
- redefinition of the size of microplastics: increase from 1 nm to 0.1 μm for particles, and from 3 nm to 0.3 μm for fibre-like particles;
- definition of different transition periods to the application of the restriction between 4 and 12 years depending on the product;
- exclusion from the restriction definition of microplastics in certain products, such as medicines, fertilisers, food additives and in vitro diagnostic devices;
- introduction of mandatory information requirements – e.g. on labels or packaging – for products containing microplastics;
- introduction of criteria for permitted test methods to identify degradable particles in order to exclude them from the application of the restriction.
So the term microplastics usually refers to the totality of the subfive-millimetre size class of these materials even if different category size are included:
- Macroplastics ►large items of plastic litter which are greater than 5 mm in size
- Microplastics ► plastic particles in the size range between 0.1 μm to 5 mm in their longest dimension
- Nanoplastics ► plastic particles of size ranging from 1 to 100 nanometres (nm) (0.001 μm – 0.1 μm)
all possible shapes of plastic particles are considered, namely fragments, fibres/filaments, beads/spheres, films/sheets and pellets.
The vast array of different plastic types available on today’s consumer market makes the qualitative or quantitative analysis of microplastics extremely challenging and there are no officially recognized methods available by now.
However, thanks to the long-standing experience of ECSIN, specific methods applicable to different matrix types including detergents, cosmetics, drinking water, milk, beverages, mineral salts, fish products and environmental matrices (e.g. wastewater, soil and sludge) were developed and validated.