Laboratory analysis and detection of microplastics

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are small plastic particles (< 5 mm) scattered in the environment. They can be fragments of plastic objects or plastic microbeads, increasingly used by the cosmetics, paint and detergent industries, as well as in certain agricultural, medicinal and construction products.

Our heavy use of plastics in everyday life has resulted in slowly degrading plastic materials entering our environment, our food chain and our water. Regular monitoring of your products and industrial processes may therefore be a necessity.  

The latest regulatory changes regarding microplastics :

After being commissioned by the European Union, in 2019 ECHA proposed a far-reaching restriction on the use of microplastics in products put to market in the EU. This regulation aims to ban the commercialization of products containing microplastics in order to limit their release into the environment. In December of 2020, the SEAC (Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis) body endorsed ECHA’s proposal and made even stricter recommendations regarding the size limit of a piece of microplastic, which is now set to between 100nm and 5mm.

Following the different recommendations put forward by the ERC, the SEAC and the ECHA, this definition does not apply to polymers:

  • Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified
  • Biodegradable polymers
  • With a water solubility of >2g/L 

This European restriction, which should come into effect by 2022, will have an impact on all industrial products as microplastics are voluntarily added to most consumer products. However, it mainly concerns “microbeads” used in cosmetic products that are rinsed after use. 

How can FILAB assist you in the qualification, analysis and detection of microplastics?

FILAB laboratory has developed a wide skill set in the analysis and detection of microplastics in industrial products or wastewater. Characterization and detection of microplastics can be performed using various analytical approaches :

  • Polymer solubility threshold to determine whether or not it can be classed as a microplastic using the OCDE 105 or OCDE 120 methods
  • Detection of microplastics under a microscope (Optical Microscopy, SEM…)
  • Microplastic analysis by FTIR spectroscopy
  • Microplastic analysis by RAMAN spectroscopy

These methods and techniques allow for fast detection and characterization of the presence of microplastics on the surface of a material or in a solution in accordance with the new European Committee regulations. 

Thomas GAUTIER Head of Materials Department
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