The United Nations Environmental Programme defines marine litter as, “any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment.”
It can consist of items that have been:
Sources are multiple and it leads to a wide range of environmental, economic, safety, health and cultural impacts. The slow rate of degradation of most items, mainly plastics, together with the continuously growing quantity disposed, is leading to a gradual increase in marine litter found at sea and on the shores.
A report of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that there will be an equal amount of microplastics in the oceans compared to fish by 2050. To better understand where plastics come from in the Marine Environment, consult the study and infographics done by Eunomia. Marine litter is a serious concern for the nonwovens industry. Beside partnering with associations such as PlasticsEurope to address problems and concerned raised , EDANA and its member companies, provide clear and correct information about marine litter and microplastics, and the industry’s actions to ensure that for instance wipes are disposed of correctly.
According to ECHA (the European Chemical Agency) the working definition used for microplastics is:
Microplastics means a material consisting of solid polymercontaining particles, to which additives or other substances may have been added, and where ≥ 1% w/w of particles have (i) all dimensions 1nm ≤ x ≤ 5mm, or (ii), for fibres, a length of 3nm ≤ x ≤ 15mm and length to diameter ratio of >3 (date : 30 September 2019, the definition is subject to change)
As there is currently no international accepted definition, this working definition is subject to change.
Microplastics can be:
In the category Microplastics emitted by (but non-intentionally added in) products, the nonwovens product categories are not concerned by this.
In the category Microplastics intentionally added in products, any nonwovens products containing superabsorbent polymers (SAP) such as absorbent hygiene products (AHP) are concerned.
The industry position is the following:
“Polyacrylate Superabsorbent polymers (subsequently referred to as SAP) are used in a range of products represented by the scope of EDANA members such as absorbent hygiene products (AHP). Diapers, feminine hygiene products and incontinence products are examples of AHP.
In ECHA’s current working definition, SAPs fall under the scope of intentionally added microplastics. SAP in AHP are indeed intentionally added but are not likely to be released during the use or end-of-use phase. All SAP particles coming into contact with human fluids form a gel. Some particles remain in the solid or semi-solid phase. The release of SAP particles, from these products, during use phase is unlikely, as the SAP particles are contained within the structure of the nonwovens layers.
These products are designed for solid waste streams after their use phase. Most countries would incinerate this waste streams, while some would landfill this waste. In any case, with a proper waste management system, these products do not end up in the environment and thus release no microplastics.”