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October 31, 2023

Europe’s microplastics ban will affect more than just glitter

Microplastics glitter
Under the European Commission’s restriction, non-degradable synthetic polymers under 5mm in size will gradually be phased out of various product types (Photo: Nanihta/Envato)

The EU’s microplastics restriction, dubbed ‘the glitter ban’, has come into effect. Industry figures highlight that once fully rolled out, it will affect a lot more than just loose glitter

On October 17, the European Commission’s restriction on intentionally added microplastics came into effect. Under the ban, non-degradable synthetic polymers under 5mm in size will gradually be phased out of various product types, from detergents and cosmetics to synthetic turf.

The restriction, dubbed the “glitter ban”, will immediately only affect loose glitter and microbeads found in cosmetic products such as scrubs and exfoliants.

Other kinds of microplastics, such as those used to improve the formulation of products including make-up or house paints, have longer deadlines before they are phased out to give stakeholders more time to find alternative ways of achieving the same effect.

The ban on loose glitter, which forms one part of the restriction, has been widely reported, with certain beauty influencers and reality television stars driving a surge in glitter sales before the ban came into effect. Luca Valentino, of Germany’s reality talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar, told tabloid Bild that the EU was “taking away the last sparks of glamour”.

But, as the commission said presenting the rules: “The purpose is not to ban all glitter but replace plastic glitter with more environmentally friendly glitter that does not pollute our oceans.”

Industry’s reaction

Cosmetics Europe, the trade association that represents the European cosmetics industry, said in a statement that the initial constraints of the restriction are easier to manage, but that once it comes to incorporating microplastics used to create complex formulations it will have more of an impact on industry.

Since 2015, Cosmetics Europe has recommended that producers avoid microbeads in products due to potential harm to aquatic life — the same year that the US Food and Drug Administration passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act banning the use of plastic microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics.

According to the body, “intentionally added microplastics from leave-on cosmetics represent 2% of all microplastic releases covered by the restriction”.

The cosmetics industry will be required to meet a series of deadlines for the phase-out of microplastics: October 2027 for rinse-off cosmetics; October 2029 for leave-on cosmetics; October 16 2035 for make-up, lip and nail cosmetics.  

In addition, from October 2031 until October 2035, in order to continue to be sold, make-up, lip and nail products need to bear a label indicating they contain microplastics.

A spokesperson from the UK’s Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association tells Sustainable Views: “Although the ban is an EU initiative which will not automatically apply in the UK … the vast majority of cosmetics companies sell their products in both the [UK] and EU markets and therefore create one formulation which can be sold in both markets.

“It is likely that any companies currently using plastic glitter will seek to source alternatives which provide a glittery effect but are proven to be biodegradable or are based on minerals rather than plastic,” they add.

Other industries seem to be ahead of the rules. A spokesperson from Fertilizers Europe tells Sustainable Views that “the vast majority” of fertilisers sold in the EU are already “regulated under the EU Fertilising Product Regulation, which was among the very first ones introducing biodegradability requirements for polymers used in fertilisers”. The new restriction will only affect fertilisers that are not marked with the Conformité Européenne marking, which states that they comply with the regulation.

The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council said in a statement that while polymeric infills will not be banned until 2031, it “recognises the need to move away from rubber and plastic infill materials”.

“The synthetic turf industry is introducing an increasing range of natural (vegetal) infill materials including granulate cork, wood chip, olive pits, corn husks and coconut fibres,” it added.

‘Environmentally friendly’ glitter

Lisa Erdle, an environmental toxicologist and director of science and innovation at plastic pollution think-tank 5 Gyres, tells Sustainable Views that while she welcomed the restriction on loose glitter, concerns remain over the commission’s definition of “environmentally friendly” glitter.

“Polymer type really matters and the thickness of the material matters … I think that there needs to be some clarity around what polymer types are allowed, if any … to make sure that if these particles get into the environment that they don’t cause harm,” she says.

A study published in the journal Hazardous Materials in 2020 found that both plastic glitter and glitter made from “alternative materials”, such as paper or cellulose, could have “ecological impact in aquatic ecosystems”, suggesting that biodegradable glitters may not be as “environmentally friendly” as they initially appear.

According to the UK cosmetics trade association, conventional glitter is “made from fixing colours between thin layers of plastic. [But] some glittering effects are provided by minerals mixed or coated with colours”.

A service from the Financial Times