European Green Deal: changes affecting chemical management

Transitioning to safer and more sustainable chemicals is a key part of the European Green Deal’s commitment to a greener planet. Discover how these goals will impact your business operations.

There are increasing efforts to address the hazardous chemicals in industry as awareness grows of their presence. Potentially harmful chemicals have been revealed in consumer products, such as food and packaging, furniture, clothing, and cosmetics, as well as textiles, batteries, wind turbines, and renewable energy sources.  

Together with a circular economy plan, a zero-pollution ambition, and a Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS), the European Green Deal is putting forward a strict chemicals management framework. From this commitment will come impactful changes and new expectations for businesses operating around the globe.

To achieve a clean circular economy, it’s essential that products are safe and sustainable throughout their life cycle, from conception to recycling and disposal.

Key chemical goals

Tools will be needed to encourage and reward the use of safer and more sustainable chemicals in affected industries. It will be important to incentivize companies to substitute chemicals of concern, promoting the investment of alternatives that are safer for people and the planet. There are many initiatives by the European Green Deal to achieve the sustainability goals. Here are some of those plans: 

  • Ban of the most harmful chemicals 
  • Assess the risks of mixing chemicals 
  • Phase out PFAS in the EU, unless their use is essential 
  • Boost investment and innovation to produce more sustainable chemicals 
  • Promote EU’s resilience of supply 
  • Establish a simpler “one substance one assessment” process for risks and hazards 
  • Champion higher standards for exporting chemicals banned in the EU
     

Achieving safe products and nontoxic material cycles 

To achieve a clean circular economy, it’s essential that products are safe and sustainable throughout their life cycle, from conception to recycling and disposal. However, the goal of such a clean life cycle is hindered by the lack of information on the chemical content of products.  

It’s important that the relevant agencies should: 

  • Minimize the presence of substances of concern by introducing stricter requirements 
  • Prioritize products with the highest potential for circularity – for example, textiles, packaging, furniture, electronics, and construction materials 
  • Ensure information on chemicals is freely available, including their life cycle 
  • Ensure authorizations from restrictions for recycled materials under REACH are justified 
  • Support investments that decontaminate waste streams, increase safe recycling, and reduce export waste 
  • Develop methodologies for chemical risk assessment, taking into account the life cycle of substances, materials, and products 

If, by 2050, a company cannot exhibit verified chemical hazard assessments, their products won’t be permitted to be sold in the EU, making this an essential step for management. 

Though the EU’s approach to chemicals management is showing success, emerging concerns on the impact of certain chemicals on our health and environment force the European Commission to consistently update its regulatory framework. To respond to new findings, the EU Commission will: 

  • Extend the generic approach to risk management to ensure consumer products do not contain chemicals that can cause cancers, gene mutations, reproductive issues, or disrupt the endocrine system. Chemicals shown to affect the immune, neurological, or respiratory systems will also be assessed 
  • Prioritize restricted substances for all uses through grouping instead of regulating one by one 
  • Define criteria for ‘essential uses’ of substances to ensure that the most harmful chemicals are only used if necessary – for example, for the health, safety or functioning of society 
  • Ensure the safety of children by protecting toys and childcare articles from dangerous chemicals 
  • Extend the same level of protection given to consumers to professional users under REACH 
  • Strengthen the protection of workers
     

Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals 

The EU’s strategy for safer chemicals needs to be consolidated to ensure that endocrine disruptors are recognized and minimized as soon as possible. To do this, the Commission plans to: 

  • Propose a legally binding hazard identification of endocrine disruptors based on the WHO definition 
  • Ensure endocrine disruptors are banned in consumer products, unless their use is essential 
  • Introduce endocrine disruptors as substances of very high concern under REACH, to protect people 
  • Ensure sufficient information is made available to identify endocrine disruptors by strengthening requirements 
  • Accelerate development of methods to screen and test for endocrine disruptors
     

PFAS 

Unless they can be proven to be essential for our society, the EU is planning a phase-out of all products containing PFAS, dubbed ‘forever chemicals’, which have been proven to be harmful to human health. The EU will: 

  • Ban all PFAS in firefighting foams, unless essential for society 
  • Address PFAS with a group approach, under relevant legislation 
  • Address PFAS concerns on a global scale 
  • Provide financial support for research and innovation programs to identify and develop solutions for remediating PFAS
     

Chemical pollution in the natural environment 

When hazardous chemicals enter our environment, they can have long-term effects on the health of our planet and ecosystems. Not only can they damage our ecosystem, leading to loss of animal populations, but they can also impact human health through our food chain. 

To reduce the effect on our wellbeing, the European Commission will: 

  • Propose new hazard classes in the CLP regulation to address environmental toxicity, persistency, mobility, and bioaccumulation 
  • Categorize endocrine disruptors as very high concern 
  • Ensure information is made available to authorities 
  • Address the impact of pharmaceuticals in the pharmaceutical strategy for the EU 
  • Support development of decontamination solutions 
  • Reinforce regulation of chemical contaminants in food

If, by 2050, a company cannot exhibit verified chemical hazard assessments, their products won’t be permitted to be sold in the EU, making this an essential step for management. 

Meeting chemical responsibilities

Companies need to develop strong and reliable chemicals management strategies to meet the compliance goals established by the European Green Deal. The critical takeaway from these developments is that if businesses can’t meet these new regulations, they won’t be able to sell their products in the EU market. Work with Enhesa, to ensure you understand the steps needed to retain market access.

This feature is related to a webinar by Enhesa, Unlocking the European Green Deal: Enhesa’s three pillar approach for sustainable success, hosted by Kimberley de Miguel, Managing Analyst, EMEA

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