The Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Sweden have issued a joint call to ban the microplastics used in detergents and cosmetics, saying the measure will protect marine life – and seafood – from contamination.
The elimination of microplastics in products, and in particular, in cosmetics and detergents, “is of utmost priority,” the four countries said in a joint statement.
The joint call, which was also supported by Luxembourg, was forwarded to the EU’s 28 environment ministers who are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (17 December).
Microplastic pollution – bits of polyester and acrylic smaller than the head of a pin – have been detected by scientists, who have warned about their harmful effect on human health via contamination of the food chain.
These microplastics are usually added intentionally in consumer products, such as scrub creams and shower gels, and end up in water management systems which “are not equipped to hold this material back,” the four countries warned.
The Netherlands is particularly worried because of concerns that seafood – including its national production of mussels – could suffer from micro-plastic pollution.
The four countries supporting a ban admitted that there was still “some scientific uncertainty” about the sources of contamination, but said “what we already know is sufficient to take action”.
Some cosmetic manufacturers have already pledged to stop using microplastic scrub beads in their products. In December 2012, Dutch multinational Unilever announced it will phase out the use of micro-plastics in its personal care products by 2015.
These voluntary industry commitments further justify an EU-wide ban, the Dutch argue, saying the EU needs to restore a level-playing field for industry and strengthen the Union’s role as a frontrunner for innovative products.
“Although it is evident that alternatives to microplastics in cosmetics and detergents are available, hundreds of tons of microplastics are still being released onto the EU market each year (for instance in Germany there are around 500 tons of polyethylene in cosmetic products,” the four countries note.