Oleochem Analytics (Brussels) – The European Commission adopted the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability last week.
The Strategy is the first step towards a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment announced in the European Green Deal.
“The Chemicals Strategy is the first step towards Europe’s zero pollution ambition. Chemicals are part and parcel of our daily life, and they allow us to develop innovative solutions for greening our economy,” Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said. “But we need to make sure that chemicals are produced and used in a way that does not hurt human health and the environment. It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to textiles and materials that come in contact with our food”.
The Strategy will boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals and increase protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals. This includes prohibiting the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, unless proven essential for society, and ensuring that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.
The strategy includes ensuring that the most harmful chemicals for human health and the environment are avoided for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products and with regard to most vulnerable groups, but also that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.
The Strategy aims to significantly increase the protection of human health and the environment from harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to vulnerable population groups. Flagship initiatives include in particular:
- Phasing out from consumer products, such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, the most harmful substances, which include among others endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), unless their use is proven essential for society;
- Minimising and substituting as far possible the presence of substances of concern in all products. Priority will be given to those product categories that affect vulnerable populations and those with the highest potential for circular economy;
- Addressing the combination effect of chemicals (cocktail effect) by taking better account of the risk that is posed to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources;
- Ensuring that producers and consumers have access to information on chemical content and safe use, by introducing information requirements in the context of the Sustainable Product Policy Initiative.
Boosting innovation and promoting EU’s competitiveness
The Strategy aims to capture the opportunity to make safer chemicals and enable the green transition of the chemicals sector and its value chains. As far as possible, new chemicals and materials must be safe and sustainable by design i.e. from production to end of life. This will help avoid the most harmful effects of chemicals and ensure the lowest possible impact on climate, resource use, ecosystems and biodiversity. The Strategy envisages the EU industry as a globally competitive player in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals. The actions announced in the Strategy will support industrial innovation so that such chemicals become the norm on the EU market and a benchmark worldwide. This will be done mainly by:
- Developing safe-and-sustainable-by-design criteria and ensuring financial support for the commercialisation and uptake of safe and sustainable chemicals;
- Ensuring the development and uptake of safe and sustainable-by-design substances, materials and products through EU funding and investment instruments and public-private partnerships;
- Considerably stepping up enforcement of EU rules both at the borders and in the single market;
- Putting in place an EU research and innovation agenda for chemicals, to fill knowledge gaps on the impact of chemicals, promote innovation and move away from animal testing;
- Simplifying and consolidating the EU legal framework – e.g. by introducing the ‘One substance one assessment’ process, strengthening the principles of ‘no data, no market’ and introducing targeted amendments to REACH and sectorial legislation, to name a few.
The Commission will also promote safety and sustainability standards globally, in particular by leading by example and promoting a coherent approach aiming that hazardous substances that are banned in the EU are not produced for exports.
“Our health should always come first. That is exactly what we have ensured in a Commission flagship initiative such as the Chemical Strategy,” said Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides. “Chemicals are essential for our society and they must be safe and sustainably produced. But we need to be protected from the harmful chemicals around us. This Strategy shows our high level of commitment and our determination to protect the health of citizens, across the EU.”
In 2018, Europe was the second biggest producer of chemicals (accounting for 16.9% of sales). Chemical manufacturing is the fourth largest industry in the EU, directly employing approximately 1.2 million people. 59% of chemicals produced are directly supplied to other sectors, including health, construction, automotive, electronics, and textiles. Global chemicals production is expected to double by 2030, and the already widespread use of chemicals is likely to also increase, including in consumer products.
The EU has a sophisticated chemicals legislation, which has generated an advanced knowledge base on chemicals and set up scientific bodies to carry out the risk and hazard assessments of chemicals. The EU has also managed to reduce the risks to people and the environment for certain hazardous chemicals like carcinogens.