The Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment has developed a self-test method that can help companies to prevent emissions of primary microplastics in the environment.
Why are microplastics a problem?
The presence of small plastic particles (< 5 mm), the so-called microplastics, in rivers and seas, has become a major environmental issue . Those particles are the result of the degradation of plastic litter (such particles are called 'secondary microplastics') or they are manufactured as such in order to be added to products like scrub cream or toothpaste (such particles are called 'primary microplastics'). Primary microplastics can end up in our water, e.g. when rinsed off.
Sea water pollution caused by microplastics can have a negative impact on the marine ecosystem and biodiversity. The plastic particles are noxious to water organisms and animals when they are considered as food and swallowed, which can induce a false sense of satiety. The plastics can also contain noxious additives or pollutants from the sea water can stick to the plastics. When swallowed by water organisms, plastic particles can end up in our food chain. Mussels, for instance, have already been found to contain microplastics.
Microplastics in products
According to the World Economic Forum, oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050. The problem of water pollution caused by plastics is a global problem that can only be solved by common efforts consisting of various actions that focus on different aspects: efficient collection and processing of waste, the development of quickly biodegradable plastics and behavioural change (stop leaving waste on the beach).
Reducing or replacing primary microplastics in products like cosmetics or cleansing agents can be a relatively quick and obvious partial solution. In addition, plastics (which are very sustainable materials) should not be used in products meant for short-term use. After being used (think about scrub creams or kitchen abrasives), the plastic particles are washed down the drain or sewer. Some of those plastic particles are filtered away by water treatment systems but some will slip through and end up in the sea. And they can stay there for thousands of years.
Project: a manual for companies
The Directorate-general for the Environment has now developed a self-test method that can help companies to prevent emissions of primary microplastics in the environment. This method has been transposed into a manual for companies. This manual allows companies to inventory their use of microplastics and to take preventive measures, either by using alternative materials or by preventing the emission of microplastics in the environment.
The manual also contains a list of sectors to which the self-test for companies may be relevant and describes for what types of microplastics the test can be used. In addition, it provides a method for evaluating the emission of microplastics, both during the production process and during the use of a final product by its consumer, and mentions some alternative materials that could replace microplastics.
The test can be used for the following sectors: the production of plastic granulate and the incorporation of plastic granulate into plastic objects; the production of cosmetics, lubricants, pigment carriers, water softeners and thermoplastic adhesives; industrial applications of microplastics (e.g. in processes of surface treatment using abrasives).
You can download the manual here.
If you want to know more about the justification of the choices made, you can consult the accompanying document to the study. You can obtain the document by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the future
Not all necessary information was available when the manual was developed. In the future, the manual will be further updated and completed.