Shuo Yu

June 4, 2023

Mitigating microplastics in products: how to reduce risk and meet regulations

Microplastics are found everywhere, posing a threat to human health and natural ecosystems. This World Environment Day we explore how producers, suppliers, and retailers can help reduce risks and navigate upcoming regulations.

Microplastics are contaminants of increasing global concern. These solid, synthetic polymer particles smaller than 5 millimetres in size are everywhere.
These particles arise from a variety of sources including personal care products, coatings, and laundry detergents which intentionally include microplastics, as well as from fragments of larger plastic pieces.
The widespread use of microplastics in various industrial and consumer products worldwide, as well as their ubiquitous presence in nearly every environment, have led to growing concerns to human health and the environment.
Navigating the microplastics regulatory landscape
Although there are a limited number of microplastic regulations today, that is changing fast. Product stewardship associated with microplastics is gaining momentum.
As the body of science in this area grows, manufacturers, suppliers, and retailors should expect an increase in regulatory oversight to impact business as usual. They can further anticipate regulators requiring data to assess the human safety and environmental impact of microplastic-use products.
To be prepared, be aware of the following key regulations and legislative activities:
Microplastic regulations in the United States
To date, the only US federal regulation targeting microplastics in consumer products is the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which amends the 2015 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The Act prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics and non-prescription or “over-the-counter" drugs containing intentionally added plastic microbeads. Several US states passed bills banning personal care products containing microbeads.
California released a State-wide Microplastics Strategy in February 2022, focusing on early-action solutions to manage microplastic pollution. Source reduction and product stewardship techniques were proposed, including eliminating products that are high contributors to microplastic pollution, as well as engaging with industries to identify alternative material sources and product designs.
Other California legislative activities include the proposed California Assembly Bill AB-2787 which would expand the existing Microbeads Nuisance Prevention Law to ban all rinse-off cosmetics, waxes, and polishes, as well as leave-on cosmetics containing intentionally added microplastics at ≥ 0.01% by weight. The Safer Consumer Products Program also proposes addition of microplastics to its Candidate Chemicals List (CCL), which could lead to increased microplastics scrutiny in consumer products and eventually regulatory responses including product labelling, use restrictions, or product sale prohibition for any manufacturer, importer, assembler, or retailer of products containing microplastics in California.
Microplastic regulations in Europe
Meanwhile, in August 2022, the European Commission published its long-awaited proposal to restrict consumer and professional products with intentionally added microplastics (≥ 0.01% by weight).
Update October 2023: This proposal was adopted and published at the end of September 2023 and enters into force on 17 October, 2023 under the European Union registration, evaluation, authorisation, and restriction of chemicals (REACH) regulation. As mandated, producers and suppliers of products containing microplastics may be subject to certain conditions of use, labelling, disposal, and reporting obligations. Such restrictions will affect the intentional use of microplastics in products including fragrances, cosmetics, fertilisers, plant protection products, and biocidal products. Degradable polymers are exempted from the restriction.
To learn more, see Ramboll’s article Microplastics: an increased focus on product stewardship and safety, which provides further detail on the proposal and possible exceptions.
Potential sources of microplastics
Microplastics originate from various products including, but not limited to:
common sources of microplastics
How can our microplastic experts help you? Contact:
To contact the editor on this story, please write to Mercedes Beaudoin or Cherie Courtade.