These last two weeks, you might have seen the term “Chemical Strategy” flash by in your LinkedIn feed, or perhaps in some newsletter that you’ve been subscribed to for three years, but never read. Maybe you’ve never heard of the Chemical Strategy at all? In any case, this piece is for you. The aim here is to help you to quickly get an idea of what the strategy is and, more importantly, the actual consequences it will have for your company.
(Spoiler: If your company produces or sells products that contain chemicals – which in practice means every company that makes money out of physical products – you should keep reading.)
The Chemical Strategy is a kind of guidance document, put out by the EU Commission. It outlines the future of chemicals regulation within the union and details how officials, agencies and authorities should approach the topic.
A strategy like this isn’t published very often – maybe once every other decade – so it’s kind of a big deal. Furthermore, the level of ambition of this particular strategy is actually quite high. If it is to be fully realized, it will demand a lot of changes from the industry.
At this point, nobody knows exactly what these changes are. But we obviously have a pretty educated guess. So without further ado, here are five things from the strategy that us folks at ChemSec think will matter the most to businesses.
1. Substitute it now!
The strategy introduces a new hierarchy in chemicals management, where phasing out chemicals of concern now takes the top spot, and risk management (trying to control the exposure) is moved down one step. But why should you care about some hierarchy? Because it’s a very good indication of the Commission’s new approach to toxic chemicals. Instead of spending time and resources on managing the risks of toxic chemicals, companies should make it a priority to phase them out.
Related to this, the strategy aims to restrict the use of substances of concern in all kinds of consumer products, while at the same time introducing a mixture assessment factor. This is done to address the fact that we’re all exposed to mixtures of chemicals, a.k.a. the cocktail effect, and a very good reason to step up your substitution ambitions and phase out all substances of concern.
2. Forever Chemicals are no more
The strategy has a specific focus on the large group of PFAS chemicals and says that regulation should treat them all together as one big unhappy family, rather than one by one, which has previously been the case. In practice, this means that the Commission will ban all uses of PFAS and only allow use when it’s essential for society. What the term “essential use” will include is still up for debate, but the Commission will look into the definition set out in the Montreal Protocol.
The strategy also states that the EU will act on a global scale to phase out PFAS. This means that NOW is the time to identify where your company uses PFAS chemicals and identify suitable alternatives.
3. Recycled materials get the same chemical criteria as virgin
There’s a focus on safe and clean recycling solutions and that material cycles need to be non-toxic. The strategy also states that the same chemical criteria should apply for new products as for recycled ones. This has been a problem up until now, sadly well illustrated by toys. In new toys made with recycled plastics, it’s very common to find hazardous chemicals in the materials (even if it’s not allowed).
In order to make this change happen, the Commission points out that information about which harmful chemicals a product contains is crucial. For that reason, the strategy proposes to make information on chemical content available by introducing information requirements.
4. If making sustainable chemicals is your thing – the EU has got your back
Political and financial support will be given to promote chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design. Regulatory tools to drive and reward frontrunners in the chemical industry will be exploited. The strategy aims to transform the industry by introducing incentives to attract investments in safe and sustainable products and production methods.
Another thing worth mentioning is that enforcement will be tightened in a number of different ways. For example, the strategy sets out that it will be possible to revoke REACH registration numbers – the one thing you need to put your chemical on the EU market – when compliance is not met. This is a big change, as it has been possible to cheat regulation quite easily up until now.
5. More toxic chemicals will be considered toxic chemicals in the eyes of the law
Additional problematic chemical properties will be identified, to make sure substances of concern are tackled within the EU regulation. PMT (Persistent, Mobile and Toxic) as well as vPvM (very persistent, very mobile) are two new property labels that will be introduced. In practice, this means that many chemicals that were not regulated before will now be considered substances of concern.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals, EDCs, have been discussed within the EU for many years. The news brought by the strategy is that the Commission will propose to establish hazard classification of EDCs based on the WHO definition, which in turn builds on the criteria developed for biocides and pesticides. If you haven’t guessed it yet, our advice to you is to identify EDCs within your processes and start phasing them out.
As always, if you want to know what substances you should phase out, our own SIN List is a good starting point.