What are microplastics?

Microplastics are small, usually microscopic, solid plastic particles.

They end up in our environment when larger articles, such as litter or car tyres, fragment or wear away.

They are also deliberately manufactured and added to some products such as cosmetics, cleaning and laundry products, and fertilisers to give these products a certain texture or technical function.


Why are microplastics a problem?

Irrespective of their source, microplastics are persistent and universal pollutants. When products containing them are used, microplastics can be released to the environment where they stay for centuries, as they do not biodegrade.

Microplastics have been found in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems as well as in food and drinking water.

Their continued release in massive quantities every year contributes to permanent and irreversible pollution of our ecosystems and food chains.


What is the restriction proposal about?

ECHA’s proposal, requested by the European Commission, will affect microplastics in products placed on the market in the EU/EEA.

The proposal would ban products that contain microplastics from the EU/EEA market if these microplastics are inevitably released to our environment when the products are used.

Examples of such products are cosmetics, cleaning and laundry products, fertilisers, plant protection products and seed coatings.

The proposed restriction does not cover all polymers – it concerns only those that are consistent with the microplastic definition and relevant to the concern: less than 5 mm in size, solid, particulate, insoluble and non- biodegradable.

It also does not concern microplastics that are formed unintentionally in the environment (also called secondary microplastics). Examples of secondary microplastics are releases from car tyres while driving or from the degradation of plastic litter. The European Commission is considering measures to tackle these secondary sources as part of the EU’s Plastics Strategy and the new circular economy action plan.