Every year in Europe, between 70 000 and 200 000 tons of microplastics seep into our natural environments, which is in part, due to plastic particles found in many detergents and cleaning products. The increasing amount of plastic has become a world-wide problem that the European Union commits to fighting, with its ‘Plastic Strategy’ (adopted in January 2018). EU Ecolabel criteria for detergents contribute to this commitment, as they ban the use of microplastics in detergent products.
Microplastics can be found in detergents that contain scrubbing agents, such as laundry detergents. As a result of their small particle-size, microplastics are not caught by the filters in water treatment systems and ultimately end up in the ocean, affecting marine biodiversity. In July 2019, a study conducted by the Austrian environmental (GLOBAL 2000) and consumer organizations (AK OÖ) tested 300 detergents among which 119 contained microplastics. The EU Ecolabel makes it possible for European consumers and public institutions to avoid such harmful detergents for the environment and choose healthier and safer products.
New impactful initiatives on the use of microplastics in detergents have also recently emerged. For example, the European Chemicals Agency has submitted in January 2019 a restriction proposal to ban microplastic particles that are intentionally added to cleaning products used by consumers and professionals. If adopted, the restriction could reduce the amount of microplastics released to the environment in the EU by about 400 thousand tons over 20 years. Thanks to the EU Ecolabel, detergents producers can anticipate EU regulations whilst supporting the EU Plastics Strategy.