IPPIC Comments on ECHA Call for Input on Microplastics in Marine Environment 

The European Union’s European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is collecting input to assess the impacts of a possible restriction on intentionally added microplastics in products of any kind. IPPIC — the International Paint and Printing Ink Council, for which ACA serves as Secretariat — responded to ECHA’s call for information on industry’s uses of microplastic particles, their alternatives as well as the costs and other impacts of a potential restriction. ECHA has stated that information gathered will provide an input into developing Annex XV restriction dossiers or other documents.

Microplastics are synthetic, water-insoluble polymer items smaller than 5 mm. ECHA is investigating the potential impact of microplastics on the (aquatic) environment and human health have generated concerns in Member States of the European Union and worldwide.

The use and fate of plastic materials is coming under scrutiny by government environmental agencies and academic researchers around the world. This is due in large part to the widespread and highly visible problem of how to manage the large volume of discarded plastic containers and packaging products that end up in the waste stream. Policymakers around the globe are struggling to apply waste management principles, specifically stimulating efforts to “reduce, re-use and recycle.”

IPPIC Perspective on Microplastics and Paint

In its comments IPPIC explains that, in general, paint is a resinous product intended to provide a continuous protective or decorative film to a substrate, imparting desirable properties that last for a long time. Extensive efforts are made to ensure economical transfer efficiency and to minimize loss of paint product to the environment during application and subsequent clean-up of application equipment (i.e., brushes and rollers).

The paint industry stresses that all known mitigating factors need to be considered in any effort to quantify the potential release of microplastics from products. This is especially true for academic researchers, government agencies and advocacy groups as they work to address concerns regarding microplastics in the environment. For its part, the paint industry is ready to advance its understanding of the issue and its commitment to product stewardship.

IPPIC provides a forum for information exchange and cooperation on the major issues and priorities facing the paint and printing ink industries worldwide. As such, it has offered its own “primer” on microplastics to help clarify some seminal definitions to help policymakers, including ECHA, understand the issue.

IPPIC Primer on Microplastics

“Primary microplastics” refer to intentionally-added materials such as “micro-beads” or “microfibers” that provide certain desirable performance properties but without any attendant release1 to the environment as they become embedded in the applied paint film.

“Secondary microplastics,” which have yet to be formally defined, can best be described as the “polymeric fragments” released into the environment over time from plastic-containing products, largely through the degradation of larger (i.e., macroplastic) materials. These secondary microplastics include releases from synthetic fibers in clothing (primarily from the laundering process), weathering of macroplastic wastes, degradation of polymeric surfaces (like paint) on exterior substrates, and wastewater streams that may receive discharges and/or releases of secondary microplastics from all sources.

Numerous studies on the environmental prevalence and fate of secondary microplastics have been published, but differ widely in how they have collected, characterized and quantified the sources and pathways of secondary microplastic releases. Accordingly, there is little consensus on which products are the more prevalent or likely contributors and their relative impact, if any, on the marine ecosystems.

Despite these uncertainties in the underlying studies, many media outlets and advocacy organizations have drawn attention to the issue of secondary microplastics in the marine environment. Often, these reports do not cite the scientific uncertainties associated with the underlying findings, and have led to widespread confusion regarding the nature of the problem, including potential sources and pathways for the presence of microplastics in the environment.

Notably, IPPIC is comprised of members representing associations from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, EU, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Contact ACA’s Steve Sides for more information.

In contrast, other uses of microbeads in personal care products and cosmetics eventually result in them being “washed off” and discharged into the environment, either directly or indirectly through wastewater treatment systems. As a result, marine pollution prevention concerns have led several governments to enact regulations for use in personal care products.

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