Project Overview

In a follow-up of the package on circular economy, the Commission is preparing an overall strategy on plastics which should be adopted by 2017.

This strategy will cover micro and macro plastics and may be accompanied by a first set of concrete measures to reduce their release and impacts. This project aims to support the strategy by investigating sources, pathways and options for reduction of microplastics emitted by products, such as textiles, car tyres, synthetic turf sports pitches, during their life cycle, or by other processes, such as losses of plastic pellets during production and transport. It is conducted in parallel with a sister study which focuses on products that contain ‘intentionally added’ microplastics such as those known to be contained in many cosmetics.

The consultation of stakeholders will be an integral part of the project throughout and will include a 12 week public consultation and a stakeholder workshop which will be held in Brussels. See below for an indication of the timeline for this project which runs from February to November 2017.

The scope of this project is summarised in the following working definition;

“Microplastics that are created during the lifecycle of a product through wear and tear or emitted through accidental spills. This excludes microplastics that are an intentionally added ingredient within a product or designed with the knowledge that they could be emitted during their lifecycle. This also excludes those microplastics that may be generated as a result of poor or non-existent waste management”

The working definition (subject to refinement during the course of our work) of a microplastic is currently;

  • Man-made, conventional plastics / synthetic polymers
    • focus on thermoplasts (e.g. PE, PP, PS, PA, PET, PVC, PMMA, Acrylic)
    • including thermosets (resins), elastomers (rubbers)
    • including petro-based and bio-based analogues (e.g. bio-PE from sugar)
    • including bio-based, bio-degradable polymers (e.g. PLA, PHA, PCL)
  • Solid form at ambient temperature (in the environment)
    • Solid form is defined via melting temperature > 20 °C @ 101.3 kPa
      (including waxes)
  • Sized below 5 mm in all directions (lower size limit of PM10)

The microplastic material may contain non-polymeric additives, oils, or fillers. The mass of these additional ingredients is included, as they form an inherent part of the microplastic.

This project is being undertaken in tandem with a partner study entitled “Intentionally added microplastics in products” (ENV.A.3/FRA/2015/0010). This study is led by AMEC Foster Wheeler and focuses on industries that use ‘intentionally added’ micro plastics in their products (cosmetics, detergents etc.).