Dear Ms. von der Leyen,
Within days you will sign off the Commission Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability as part of the commitments set out in the Green Deal. On behalf of ChemSec, an environmental NGO promoting safer alternatives to hazardous chemicals, I would like to stress some important issues to make sure the Strategy will deliver on its aim to better protect citizens and the environment against hazardous chemicals.
First of all, a clear definition of what sustainability means is key. A sustainable chemical must be non-toxic, use less energy and be recyclable, in order to facilitate a non-toxic circular economy. Chemicals that are classified as carcinogenic or persistent and toxic can never be classified as sustainable, regardless of what great products they are used in.
The Green Deal also set out to encourage innovation. Innovation is not great per see. A few years back, jeans with a PFAS coating were launched with the hook that they did not need to be washed as often as ordinary jeans, so they were labelled as “green and innovative” by the producer. Today we all know that PFAS is a persistent group of chemicals that harm our environment and are not at all green. On the other hand, innovation can be very good and useful if it helps to replace hazardous chemicals.
It is also vital to make regulation more efficient. The “one substance – one assessment” approach is an attempt to do so. However, we see some pitfalls with this approach. To be efficient, it needs to be “one substance – one hazard assessment”.
If the intention of “one substance – one assessment” is to include RMOA (regulatory management option analysis) to a larger extent in the EU regulation, this will make the system less efficient.
“There is no contradiction between stronger regulation and competitiveness”
To look at all the possible uses and carry out a risk evaluation too early in the process would just slow down the system. This approach was deemed inefficient many years ago, in fact it is the whole reason why REACH was introduced. Industry needs predictability about which chemicals will be regulated. We understand their need, but RMOA is not the solution.
The “Green Wave” is also sweeping over European companies and today many are on the road towards sustainability. This means they have a high ambition to reduce their impact on our environment and health, and their consumers have great expectations of them to be “good”. Reducing the use of hazardous chemicals is one of their challenges. Many of these companies are struggling to find suitable alternatives to hazardous chemicals and are asking EU policymakers to put stricter regulation in place. They are doing this because regulation or even anticipation of regulation spurs innovation towards such alternatives.
“To support the transition towards more sustainable alternatives, the EU needs to support the innovative companies that are leading the way and future-proofing the industry”
There is no contradiction between stronger regulation and competitiveness. Rather, regulation drives innovation. To enable the chemical industry to focus its innovation resources in the right direction it needs clear directions from policymakers as well as support when moving ahead.
To support the transition towards more sustainable alternatives, the EU needs to support the innovative companies that are leading the way and future-proofing the industry. But this also means that not every company should be saved at any cost.
Our experience tells us that if policymakers focus on every company and their economic interests there is a tendency to support the slow movers instead of the future-proof companies. Decision makers must accept that not all companies will survive the necessary changes, but need to ensure that the frontrunners do.
In summary, what we need to see in the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability is clear ambitions for stricter and more efficient regulation, as well as firmer implementation and enforcement of the regulation we have. The strategy also needs to make it clear that the aim within EU is to phase out substances of concern from products and processes, and move toward sustainability.
Executive Director, ChemSec