View from the Commission
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A presentation given by Paulo Lemos, Policy Officer at the European Commission within DG Environment started out by saying microplastics are definitely a priority for the Commission, and is being addressed through a number of different DGs, including DG Grow.
He said the Commission has been involved in this area since 2008, but that interest has stepped up since 2018 when the Commission launched its plastics strategy.
At that time the Commission drew a distinction between intentionally added and unintentionally released microplastics.
He said the Commission immediately started to work with the European Chemicals Agency (EChA) to begin the process of restricting all intentionally released microplastics. This work, he said, is on-going.
The latest development is that EChA is planning to ban all tire crumb particles used in artificial turf, to the consternation of many in the tire industry.
He said, “we hope that soon we’ll have the final proposal on the table … early next year.”
However, the unintentional release of microplastics is the bigger source of microplastics in the environment. The first initiate to address this, he said, was the single use plastic directive.
Another development, he said, was, “the Zero Pollution Strategy or Action Plan that foresees that by 2030 we will try to reduce 50% of marine litter and 30% of release of microplastics so it’s a big challenge for 2030 and we have to have ways to address it.”
As part of this long-term strategy to reduce the amount of micro-plastic particles in the environment, the Commission launched in early 2021 a study to assess the impact of measures to address unintentional release of micro plastics. This is not yet complete, but the initial investigations identified three key sources of these microplastics:
- Textiles and
The Commission then looked at three more sources of microplastics:
- Detergent capsules
Initial research suggested tires were the biggest culprit, but it turns out, said Lemos, more detailed work showed that paint is a more prolific source of unintentionally-released plastics. Tires are the second-biggest source of these pollutants.
At the same time as DG Environment identified tires as one of the biggest sources of micro-plastic pollution, DG Grow began a project to measure and compare the abrasion of tires as they drive along Europe’s roads.
This was in parallel with industry initiatives to measure the same parameters.
Lemos said, “we hope that soon we’ll have at international level a standardisation in terms of tire abrasion that then we can use in our legislation namely the type approval of vehicles, but also the tire labelling regulation and other eventual initiatives that we will do in this area.”
DG Environment has held a series workshops on microplastics, of which one was dedicated to tires. Out of that, the Commission identified 40 potential actions that could mitigate the release of these particles from tires. Some were quickly rejected, and the final short-list of mitigation measures and their respective impacts is now being finalised and will be revealed in the report when that is published in December or January .
Lemos said, “There is also a long process of verification of the study; of the measures that it proposes in terms of regulation. We hope to have it approved by the end of this year and then to present a proposal on unintentional release of microplastics by March next year.”
That date has been put back from November 2022, because the emission of microplastics – from all sources, including tires – is complex and requires considerable time to properly analyse.
He added, “we hope that with this initiative we will be able to achieve the target that was set by Zero Pollution Action Plan of reducing 30% the release of microplastics by 2030. Of course, for this we will need the active involvement of all and our experience in the TRWP platform was very important.”
In response to a question from the session chairman, Lemos said one option is to use the results of the work on tire abrasion tests as part of the Euro VII type approval regulations.
He said that – in principle at least – it will be possible to set a threshold for tire abrasion rates for type approval. This would limit the types of tires that can be used as OE, but would have no impact on replacement tire sales.
Because the new tire labelling regulations include the possibility of including a test for abrasion, in addition to wet grip, fuel economy and noise, that could be added at a later date to control the tires available for sale in the EU to those which offer low particle emissions.
This means, said Lemos that the tire abrasion test is a critical part of the process of limited these tire particulate emissions.
He said the likely future path beyond regulations on type approval and tire labelling would be guidelines and recommendations for road construction and road cleaning, as well as driver behaviour.
He also noted that the Commission is working on regulations and a directive around eco-design of sustainable products. He noted that tires could be included in this regulation. He said, “this regulation on eco design to promote measures in other sectors, like textiles, paints for instance. We are planning to use it.”