EU proposes ban on 90% of microplastic pollutants

European Chemicals Agency draft law aims to cut 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution

A wide-ranging ban on microplastics covering about 90% of pollutants has been proposed by the EU in an attempt to cut 400,000 tonnes of plastic pollution in 20 years.

Every year, Europe releases a bulk amount of microplastics six times bigger than the “Great Pacific garbage patch” into the environment – the equivalent of 10bn plastic bottles. The phasing out proposed by the European Chemicals Agency (Echa) would remove 36,000 tonnes a year of “intentionally added” microplastic fibres and fragments, starting in 2020. Cosmetics, detergents, paints, polish and coatings would all require design overhauls, as would products in the construction, agriculture and fossil fuels sectors. The draft law targets microplastics that are not necessary but have been added to products by manufacturers for convenience or profit.

The Guardian, 30/01/2019

The news

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EU Chemicals Agency Proposes Ban on Deliberately Added Microplastics to Combat Pollution

HELSINKI – The EU Chemicals Agency ECHA on Friday proposed a ban on deliberately adding microplastics to products such as cosmetics, detergents and agricultural fertilisers in the EU by 2020 to combat pollution. (…) (The New York Times, 18/01/2019)

The news

Sea Water Contamination in the Vicinity of the Italian Minor Islands Caused by Microplastic Pollution

The abundance and distribution of microplastics (MP) were evaluated in six “clean” sites (Italian minor islands) and in two “polluted” areas (near the mouth of two major Italian rivers). Samples of MP, plankton and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) were collected using a manta trawl (MA) and a plankton net (WP2), both lined with a 333 µm mesh net. MP have been confirmed to be ubiquitous since they were found at each site, showing an average density of 0.3 ± 0.04 items/m3 (values ranged from 0.641 to 0.119 ). When comparing the clean sites with the polluted ones, a significantly higher value of MP was found near the river mouths. The most common types of MP were synthetic filaments (50.24%), followed by fragments (30.39%), thin plastic films (16.98%) and spheres (2.39%). Infrared spectroscopy analysis highlighted that the most abundant polymers were polyethylene (PE-26%), polypropylene (PP-11%), polyethylene-terephthalate/polyester (PET/PEST-8%) and ethylene-vinyl-acetate (EVA-5%). Polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides were detected in all the samples with a high variability among sites and depths. This study adds to the existing information on the distribution of contaminants across the Mediterranean Sea, and is useful to policy makers who wish to implement effective measures to reduce MP pollution.

Giuseppe Andrea de Lucia, Alvise Vianello, Andrea Camedda and al., Water, 2018, 10(8), 1108

The article

Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of Italian Subalpine Lakes

Plastic debris incidence in marine environment was already highlighted in the early 1970s. Over the last decade, microplastic pollution in the environment has received increasing attention and is now an emerging research area. Many studies have focused on quantifying microplastic abundance in the marine environment, while there are relatively few data on microplastic occurrence in freshwater environment. Recent studies have reported high concentrations of microplastics in lakes and rivers, although the understanding of several factors influencing source, transport and fate is still limited. This study compares different lakes and the common factors, which could influence the occurrence and distribution of microplastics. The three subalpine lakes monitored include Lake Maggiore, Iseo and Garda. The selected sampling transects reflect the hydrologic conditions, the morphometric characteristics of these lakes, and other factors influencing the release of plastics debris in lakes. Particles of microplastics (<5 mm) were found in all sampled surfaces. The particles collected were classified depending on their number, shape and composition. The shape distribution showed the dominating occurrence of fragments (73.7%). The chemical composition of all examined samples clearly shows dominating presence of polyethylene (45%), polystyrene (18%) and polypropylene (15%). The results provide significant relations among the different contribution of direct and diffuse sources to the quantity of microplastics, highlighting the importance of understanding the spatial distribution dynamics of microplastics within a lake system that acts as a sink and source of plastic particles.

Maria Sighicelli, Loris Pietrelli, Francesca Lecce and al., Environmental Pollution, Volume 236, May 2018, Pages 645–651

The article

Below the surface: Twenty-five years of seafloor litter monitoring in coastal seas of North West Europe (1992–2017)

Marine litter presents a global problem, with increasing quantities documented in recent decades. The distribution and abundance of marine litter on the seafloor off the United Kingdom’s (UK) coasts were quantified during 39 independent scientific surveys conducted between 1992 and 2017. Widespread distribution of litter items, especially plastics, were found on the seabed of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea. High variation in abundance of litter items, ranging from 0 to 1835 pieces km−2 of seafloor, was observed. Plastic tems such as bags, bottles and fishing related debris were commonly observed across all areas. Over the entire 25-year period (1992–2017), 63% of the 2461 trawls contained at least one plastic litter item. There was no significant temporal trend in the percentage of trawls containing any or total plastic litter items across the long-term datasets. Statistically significant trends, however, were observed in specific plastic litter categories only. These trends were all positive except for a negative trend in plastic bags in the Greater North Sea – suggesting that behavioural and legislative changes could reduce the problem of marine litter within decades.

T. Maes, J. Barry, H.A. Leslie and al., Science of The Total Environment, Volume 630, 15 July 2018, Pages 790–798

The article

Plastic Waste: a European strategy to protect the planet, defend our citizens and empower our industries

The strategy will protect the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation, turning a challenge into a positive agenda for the future of Europe. There is a strong business case for transforming the way products are designed, produced, used, and recycled in the EU and by taking the lead in this transition, we will create new investment opportunities and jobs. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. (…)

European Commission, 16/01/2018