On 14 October, the European Commission adopted its new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, described as as a first step towards a “zero-pollution ambition for a toxic free environment” in the context of the EU Green Deal.
The strategy sets out a number of measures that aim to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals – by boosting innovation in the area of safe and sustainable chemicals, prohibiting the use of the most harmful ones “unless proven essential for society”, as the EC press release put it.
It outlines concrete actions “to make chemicals safe and sustainable by design and to ensure that chemicals can deliver all their benefits without harming the planet and current and future generations.”
Flagship initiatives include phasing out various hazardous substances from consumer products such as “toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles.” The announcement cited some of the most harmful substances as including endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – again, “unless their use is proven essential for society.”
The strategy also addresses ways of “minimising and substituting as far as possible the presence of substances of concern in all products”, with priority given to product categories that affect vulnerable populations, and those with greatest potential for the circular economy.
It also aims to ensure producers and consumers have better access to information on chemical content and safe use.
The strategy announcement cited the “great economic opportunity” arising from making chemicals safer and more sustainable. “As far as possible,” said the document, “new chemicals and materials must be safe and sustainable by design i.e. from production to end of life.” This would help ensure the lowest possible impact on climate, resource use, ecosystems and biodiversity.
The actions put forward in the strategy “will support industrial innovation so that such chemicals become the norm on the EU market and a benchmark worldwide,” it said.
Responding to the announcement, FEAD, which represents the European private waste management sector said it supported the strategy. It acknowledged the strategy’s recognition of the importance of establishing a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials, and of providing adequate disclosure of information on the chemical content of products. However, said FEAD, “we believe that such information should be complemented by a practicable and risk-based guidance for waste operators. The latter should help bridge the gap on missing information related to which chemicals are found In the different waste streams and how the latter can be treated In a safe and environmentally sound manner.”
FEAD said that the transition outlined by the strategy should also be supported by incentives, namely subsidies or fee-based mechanisms on products, to help finance innovation and technology “to better detect the presence of legacy substances in waste streams”.