Parts of the chemical industry trying to put a halt to the REACH revision due to the invasion of Ukraine, investors with $8 trillion under management putting pressure on chemical companies and 3M unexpectedly announcing that it will stop producing PFAS. These were some of the big chemical topics from last year.
With the books closed on 2022, we now turn our eyes to what we can expect for 2023. Here are five chemical topics to keep an eye on this year.
1. Really big PFAS restriction on the horizon
Initially set for last year, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden finally submitted their important joint proposal to restrict PFAS in the EU to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) earlier this month.
ECHA has said it will publish the full details of the proposal on February 7, but what we do known is that it’s going to be a broad restriction proposal.
The Danish environmental protection agency has described it as “one of the most comprehensive proposals in the history of the EU” and the Swedish chemical agency says it will cover more than 10,000 PFAS substances.
“We’re one step closer to having a comprehensive PFAS restriction”
After initial evaluations from ECHA’s expert committees in March, the proposal will receive an in-depth scrutiny. It normally takes about a year to do this. But ECHA has warned that it may take a while longer given the complexity and scope of the restriction proposal.
Nevertheless, the proposal means we’re one step closer to having a broad and comprehensive PFAS restriction in place in the European Union.
2. The REACH revision will finally happen. Right?
A revision of the REACH regulation has been in the pipeline for a long time now. It was originally planned to be presented to the European Parliament… well, now, during the first months of the new year. But after intensive lobbying work from parts of the chemical industry, the EU Commission announced that the revision would be pushed back to the last quarter of 2023.
But this is too late. If the Parliament is to have enough time go ahead with the revision before a new Parlament and EU Commission is elected, the Commission needs to present the REACH revision proposal this summer.
Both Member States as well as the European Parliament have voiced very strong support for the revision to move forward within the mandate of this EU Commission. And the current Commission has clearly stated that the REACH revision proposal will be presented as soon as it’s ready.
The question is, when will this be?
3. New buzzwords: Strategic autonomy and green hydrogen
Every now and then, a fresh new concept pops up that gets everyone excited. Sometimes the concept lingers on and sometimes the buzzword disappears just as quickly as it once appeared. So, what will be the buzzwords of 2023?
Well, two of them will definitely be strategic autonomy and green hydrogen.
The concept of strategic autonomy came as a result of the invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s overreliance on gas imports from Russia means a great deal of geopolitical and economical risk, so ensuring “strategic autonomy” would be a way for the European Union to not depend on other geopolitical powers for valuable resources. This concept affects every industry, not least the chemical sector.
“Green hydrogen is closer to fantasy land than to reality”
The other one is green hydrogen, which is the new miracle sustainability solution put forward by the chemical industry. In essence, hydrogen produced from crazy amounts of renewable energy (or waste incineration) would fuel the chemical industry instead of fossil fuels.
In theory, this sounds pretty good. The chemical industry even wants to build an extensive hydrogen pipeline network. But green hydrogen is closer to fantasy land than to reality.
And by the way, should we really rely on waste to produce the hydrogen we need? That doesn’t sound very sustainable.
4. Will there be ripple effects from 3M’s PFAS decision?
Just before Christmas, chemical giant 3M unexpectedly announced that the company has decided to stop producing PFAS. Deadline is set for the end of 2025.
The company said the decision is based on multiple factors such as “accelerating regulatory trends focused on reducing or eliminating the presence of PFAS in the environment and changing stakeholder expectations”.
There’s no doubt that the noose is getting tighter around PFAS producers’ necks. Not only are regulations getting stricter, billion-dollar lawsuits are also piling up against the producers. And as a cherry on top, investors from some of the world’s largest firms are pressuring chemical companies to end their production of “forever chemicals”.
With this said, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on other PFAS producers this year. Will they also put a halt to their production?
5. UN expert panel on chemicals. Fact or fiction?
Fact! The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) has decided to establish an expert panel on chemicals, waste and pollution.
Much like the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the new chemicals panel is meant to do a lot of horizon scanning and stay on top of emerging global issues connected to chemicals. The hope is also that the new expert panel will be able to put the chemical issue further up on the global agenda.
Exactly what the panel will be and how it will all work is not decided — but it will be soon. This week, all the nitty-gritty details will be discussed in an UN meeting in Bangkok.
Hopefully, an UN expert panel will work wonders for the chemical issue and have the same effect as IPCC has had with climate change.