Microplastics: a perspective on the regulatory landscape for the cleaning products industry


MonoSol, A Kuraray Division, Indiana, USA


Insoluble polymeric microparticles that degrade very slowly and are practically impossible to clean up upon release into the environment have been the focus of legislation for the past few years. The estimate on the contribution of microplastics (intentionally added) from the cleaning products industry relative to the total estimated annual releases of microplastics emitted by (but not intentionally added to) products to EU surface waters is minor in magnitude yet still significant for developing regulations. We are now seeing the first wave of regulations on these microplastics being adopted with more to follow in associated fields such as packaging, personal care, home and fabric care, among others. This article attempts to capture the current state of the regulatory landscape for microplastics specifically as it applies to the cleaning products industry and explains some of the proposed derogations such as those for water-soluble and biodegradable polymers. Science-based argumentation and subsequent legislation is necessary to manage this ubiquitous issue of microplastics and the path is long but is clear it will be for the betterment of our environment.

Plastics are an essential part of our everyday lives primarily based on their properties of durability and ability to provide protection from the elements. However, these very properties also result in plastics resisting degradation if not properly disposed and lead to accumulation in the environment as pollutants. These larger plastic particles break down over time into smaller particles which are defined broadly as “microplastics”. One such very visible pollutant affecting oceans, coastlines, waterways, and in a way all forms of our water supply is marine microplastic litter. Scientific evidence suggests that the vast majority of microplastics present in this litter in waterways is coming from the break-down of bigger plastic materials and this is appropriately being addressed through impactful actions globally (1). In Europe, the EU Commission has identified this risk to the environment from marine litter as part of the Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy (2).


So, what are microplastics? The most consistent definition of the term microplastics refers to small, usually microscopic, solid particle ...