In an information note transmitted to other EU Member States, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and Sweden said micro-plastics (plastic particles with a diameter below 5 mm) pollution was an issue of increasing concern. They deemed the elimination of micro-plastics in products - in particular in cosmetics and detergents - was of utmost priority. “Although it is evident that alternatives to micro-plastics in cosmetics and detergents are available, hundreds of tons of micro-plastics are still being released onto the EU market each year.

From left to right: Ms. Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg Minister for the...

From left to right: Ms. Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg Minister for the Environment; Mr Andrä Rupprechter, Austrian Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, the Environment and Water Management; Ms. Yvonne Ruwaida, Swedish State Secretary, on 17 December 2014 in Brussels during the EU Environment Council. Photo credit: The Council of the European Union

The four countries urged the Commission and member states to address the scientific gaps and to match them with the information available from different sources. In this respect the role and contribution of the European Environment Agency and the European Chemicals Agency should be assessed and defined. They called for a ban on micro-plastics in cosmetics and detergents in order to strengthen the EU’s role as a frontrunner for innovative products and green growth whilst providing a level playing field for industry.

Voluntary withdrawals and binding legislations

In the United States, the state of Illinois has already adopted a legislation to ban micro plastic beads in personal care products. Other states are considering the adoption of similar legislations. However, the Governor of New Jersey recently vetoed a proposed ban.

Several cosmetics manufacturers, such as Unilever and L’Oréal, have already committed to voluntarily withdraw these substances from their products. More recently, Accord, Australia’s industry association for the hygiene, cosmetic and specialty products industry, also announced that the local operators are committed to working towards a phase-out of polyethylene microbeads by the end of 2017.