Does New EU Polymers Rule Go Far Enough To Keep People Safe?

plastic bottles

Image: Magda Ehlers/Pexels

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

This week, the European Union will debate new rules on chemicals, specifically polymers. Plastic is made of synthetic polymers, which simply means a long, repeating chain of molecules, and the new proposed safety regulations would only apply to about 6% of them, The Guardian reports. Plenty of plastics with known health harms aren’t included in the new rules, including:

  • polystyrenes, which have been linked to cancer
  • polyacrylamides, which can degrade into a neurotoxin 
  • polyesters used in textiles and polyolefins, which degrade into microplastics

Right now, the new rules are still being drafted, so the final regulations could require more of the approximately 200,000 polymers to face a higher level of scrutiny.   

Why This Matters: The EU’s chemical regulatory body has the potential to put checks on a wide range of plastic products that people use in their everyday lives, from paints to detergents. Right now, the companies who make plastics are exempt from regulations and provide little data on the health and environmental risks of the 60 million tons of plastic produced in Europe per year. The EU has already reported that some plastics are harmful without regulation. Now, they have an opportunity to approach plastics more broadly as dangerous until proven safe, not the other way around. In other words: prioritizing the health of Europeans, not companies. 

Coalition of Scientists Speaks Up: A group of 19 scientists from across Europe and North America sent the EU Commission a strongly worded statement expressing their concerns about the regulations as they are currently drafted. Their proposal: create a framework for regulating all polymers and prioritize “ those manufactured in highest volumes and thus likely to result in the highest exposures.” The scope of plastic pollution has moved far beyond an individual piece of plastic that can be picked up from a beach and into the much harder to clean microplastic.

As Dolores Romano, chemicals policy acting manager at the European Environmental Bureau, told The Guardian: “Polymer pollution is out of control. We are exposed to it daily, as they are used in plastic, textiles, cleaning products and even cosmetics. We used to think of plastic pollution as bulky junk massing in the environment. Now we know that it breaks up into a vast cloud of micro- and nanoplastics contaminating the land, water and air, as well as showing up in our bodies. We know already that dozens of polymers are toxic, so officials must be allowed to check the safety of the rest.”

Up Next

One Cool Thing: Gold Medal in Recycling

One Cool Thing: Gold Medal in Recycling

While an Olympic medal is special in its own right, the ones being handed out at the Tokyo 2020 games come with a little extra magic. After Tokyo won its bid to host the games, the Tokyo Medal Project, called on the Japanese people to donate their old recycled old electronic gadgets such as smartphones […]

Continue Reading 132 words
New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

New Federal Bills Target Food Waste

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new series of bills have been introduced in Congress that aim to quell food waste. These bills — the Zero Food Waste Act, and the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion of Sustainable Techniques Act (COMPOST) —will reduce food waste and in turn help create jobs, slow climate […]

Continue Reading 552 words
One Cool Thing: Goats in the City

One Cool Thing: Goats in the City


Two dozen goats were unleashed in Manhattan’s Riverside park last week to get to work chomping down on invasive weeds. Crowds of spectators went to the park Wednesday to witness the ceremonial “running of the goats,” as the animals were released into the area, where they enjoyed a multi-course meal of Japanese knotweed, porcelain berry, multiflora rose, and even […]

Continue Reading 199 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.