Alongside news of wildfires in the Amazon rainforest and global climate protests spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, there are some environmental policy events that are worth returning to when 2019 is closing its doors. Events that many times are both too technical and too abstract to make it into mainstream media but, nevertheless, say a thing or two about the world and where we’re heading.
So, without further ado, I give you five positive signs from 2019 that are worth mentioning again.
1. A green wave sweeps in over the European Union
A major event that admittedly received its fair share of media attention but that could do with some more. In the race up to the EU elections in the end of May, many predicted that the far-right would advance and gain even more influence in the new EU Parliament. Fewer anticipated the big green wave that would sweep in over the European Union. Citizens from all over the EU made it crystal clear where focus for the future should lie – on the environment.
This, in turn, influenced the EU Commission to put forward a new environmental strategy dubbed the European Green Deal, which was released just last week.
2. The Basel Convention restricts the export of plastic waste
While Europe was preparing for EU elections, it became official that the Basel Convention – controlling cross-border movement and disposal of hazardous waste – would extend their controls to also include plastic waste.
As the world’s plastic consumption has grown bigger and bigger over the years, exportation of plastic waste has grown with it and become a huge industry. When China – formerly the biggest importer of plastic waste – banned all imports last year, other countries stood ready to receive the waste. But when the majority of it turned out to be non-recyclable, emerging economies such as Vietnam and Malaysia were turned into trash bins.
In any case, the new amendments to the Basel Convention with increased controls of the plastic waste’s recyclability and destination will definitely change the waste and recycling industry for the better.
3. New chemical groups on the SIN List
ChemSec’s globally recognised SIN List has always been at the forefront when it comes to hazardous chemicals that should be banned or avoided, and continues to be so after this year’s update with two new chemical groups added to it – PMTs and nanomaterials.
There’s a lot of talk about PMT – which stands for persistent, mobile and toxic – but the classification is currently not mentioned in the EU chemicals legislation. What sets these substances apart is the fact that they are extremely mobile. As for nanomaterials, it’s their size that can cause problems. Nanotechnology comes with huge technical possibilities, but the tiny chemicals can also bring about negative consequences for human health and the environment.
The fact that these two chemical groups are now included in the SIN List means that they should be taken seriously and regulated accordingly.
4. Important resolutions in the European Parliament
While we’re on the subject of EU chemicals policy, the European Parliament voted in favour of some very important resolutions this year.
Three years ago, the Swedish Government challenged the EU Commission’s decision to grant authorisation for cancer-causing lead chromates in paint pigments. In March this year, the European Court of Justice ruled in favour of Sweden and retracted the authorisation. The splash of this decision then spilled over onto other lead chromate applications with the Parliament objecting the use of chromium trioxide in chrome plating a couple of months later. Another case of the EU Parliament siding with its citizens and the environment this year was when it voted in favour of two resolutions objecting major uses of the hormone-disrupting chemical DEHP.
Even though resolutions are not legally binding, it does send a strong signal when the Parliament opposes the draft decisions from the Commission.
5. PFAS are bad business
2019 was also a year when it became clearer than ever that dealing in hazardous chemicals is bad for business. Chemical producing giants 3M and DuPont rose to power a long time ago with the production of PFAS. These chemicals were celebrated for their functionality and performance and used in countless applications and products. Then the environmental scandals surfaced. It was revealed that the companies had dumped PFAS in lakes and polluted entire communities while concealing just how toxic these chemicals are.
3M, DuPont and its spin-off Chemours are now facing lawsuits and large remediation costs – which have taken a toll on their stock prices. 3M and DuPont shares are down around 35% from 2018 and Chemours shares are down an incredible 72%.
The so-called forever chemicals are certainly working out to be a long-term financial disaster.
A positive trend that I see, that’s visible in all of the points above, is that there’s a strong tendency for structural change. We are one step closer to solving the world’s environmental challenges if the way we produce and manufacture things can be made more sustainable in the next decade.
Executive Director at ChemSec