In November 2017, as part of the EU Plastics Strategy, the European Commission (EC) requested that the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) develop a dossier on microplastics' restriction under REACH. REACH is a EU chemical regulation adopted in 2006, and its aims are the protection of human health and the environment.
The requested restriction process concerns not only environmental and health risk assessments but is closely related to socio-economic impacts within the union. Therefore, several EU committees, such as the Risk Assessment Committee (RA) and the Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis (SEA) are involved in the examination of the preparatory study submitted by ECHA.
The whole restriction process is clearly described by E. Kentin in European Physical Journal Plus. She explains the REACH regulation and introduces the actors (ECHA, RA and SEA) that are involved in the process.Then she extensively digs into the contents of the proposed dossier, quoting the definition of microplastics established by the EC:
- Microplastics consist of man-made, conventional plastics. - Microplastics also include bio-degradable plastics, bio-based analogue plastics and biobased alternative plastics. - Microplastics are solid and water-insoluble particles. - Microplastics have particle size below 5 mm and include nanometer sized plastic as well (nanoparticles).
The dossier clarifies that human health and environmental protection go hand in hand with the regulation of the internal market. Hence, the free movement of substances and products within the Union is an essential aspect of the proposal. In other words, the scientific data on hazards and environmental fate is only one side of the coin, and the restriction of substances must be justified on the basis of socio-economic assessment, which would involve determining the Member States’ political will.
Even if the economic aspect of the dossier has the biggest impact on the final restriction regulation, it is of great importance that the scientific community provides all the available evidence in order to lead towards a robust justification of restriction.
By Lisa Scalone, Springer-Verlag GmbH