Tuesday

23rd Jan 2018

Opinion

Don't let circular economy become a health hazard

  • We risk recycling hazardous substances when we reuse materials, such as certain plastics, exposing consumers to potential health risks. (Photo: lwicks_2000)

The importance of the circular economy for the future of European countries cannot be overstated.

This is an economic concept which, if properly executed, not only has the potential for saving resources and energy, safeguarding existing jobs and creating new ones - it can also eliminate substances that are hazardous to health and the environment from material cycles.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • In 2017, the EU chemical regulation, REACH, is up for review. (Photo: Kevin Dooley)

A recent report by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) shows that consumers, as well as many companies, in ten countries around the world want stronger legislation governing the use of chemicals in products.

Today, however, control and regulation is not strong enough.

As a result, we risk recycling hazardous substances when we reuse materials, such as certain plastics, which exposes consumers to potential health risks.

One notable example of how hazardous substances appear where they shouldn’t be, was when the Czech environmental organisation Arnika traced hazardous and even banned flame retardants in children’s toys last year, such as the Rubik’s cube, made from plastics derived from e-waste or electronic waste.

For the circular model to work as intended, there is a clear need for full transparency in regard to the content of substances in all products. In addition, information regarding substances in products must be shared between all stakeholders in the supply chains.

This would enable companies to substitute hazardous substances for safe alternatives, exclude materials with hazardous substances from material cycles, and provide for the safe handling of terminal waste.

Ingredients lists

Many companies want to take full responsibility for the chemical safety of their products, but are unable to do so due to a lack of information on the chemical contents of the components supplied to them.

There are inspiring examples of industry actors establishing such information systems voluntarily, for example in the auto industry, but most companies will not accomplish this on their own.

Legal requirements on transparency and information sharing are necessary. Besides, ingredient lists already exist for items such as: cosmetics, personal hygiene products, and food.

Accordingly, the European Commission needs to propose how to design the corresponding legal requirements for all products, and the centralised systems for data handling and sharing.

In January, the commission published its so-called mini package for the circular economy. This included a proposal for how to adjust the RoHS Directive, which would restrict certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic appliances in the context of the circular economy.

The idea was to remove obstacles for companies to establish a secondary market for repaired electrical and electronic appliances. But, while doing so, the commission simultaneously opted to make exemptions from current regulations in the RoHS Directive, thus eliminating protections for human health and the environment.

Stop recycling hazardous substances

The promotion of a circular economy must guarantee European consumers that products made from recovered or recycled material, including plastics, do not also include recovered or recycled hazardous substances.

In February, the industry association Plastics Europe urged the commission to stimulate innovations in recovery and recycling technologies.

However, lowering the barriers for the recovery and recycling of plastics must be complemented with stricter requirements to ensure that hazardous substances in the plastics are not reused.

The commission was recently sued for approving the recycling of plastics that contain the restricted plasticiser, DEHP.

A report on the circular economy, released by the European Environmental Bureau in February, highlights similar issues.

It shows the current gaps in the EU chemicals, waste and products legislation.

The issues must be addressed to ensure that the necessary information - on the chemical contents of all constituent components of products - reaches the waste handling, recovery and recycling industries.

REACH up for review

The EU chemical regulation, REACH, is up for review in 2017.

Currently, there are concerns that some business interests will push for simplifications to REACH. It is of utmost importance that the commission does not further limit information on the environmental and health effects of currently-restricted substances.

In the context of a circular economy, we desperately need stronger chemical regulation - not weaker.

Information requirements for chemicals annually produced or imported in small amounts (less than a ton) are missing. Nanomaterials and endocrine-disrupting chemicals are still not properly addressed.

The same provisions governing the use of chemicals in manufacturing products in the EU must also apply to products manufactured outside the EU, which are then brought onto the EU market. This is currently not the case, which is why we frequently find regulated or banned substances in imported products.

A basic condition for a safe circular economy is transparency.

Transparency

Article 33 of REACH requires the declaration of a limited number of particularly hazardous chemicals in products.

There should be an expansion of article, or a new one added, to create full transparency of the chemical contents in all constituent components of products, and requirements to share this information with all stakeholders in the supply chains.

Furthermore, products also fall under different pieces of EU chemical, product and waste legislation in different phases of their life cycles.

Requirements in REACH, as well as other chemical-related EU legislation, must be passed for these products when they switch from the scope of one piece of EU legislation to another. This is currently not the case, as illustrated by the previously-stated EEB report.

The above-mentioned examples clearly illustrate the current challenges faced by the circular economy. If we are going to make the changes happen, as we should, it must be done in a way that thoroughly avoids hazardous substances.

The circular economy is globalised - spanning the continent of Europe, and the EU can act as a locomotive for regulatory change beyond its borders.

The commission has a unique possibility to influence the creation of a safe circular economy for all citizens of the EU.

As citizens of Europe, we expect the commission not to fail in achieving one of the most important developments in sustainability.

Johanna Sandahl is the President and Therese Jacobson PhD is the manager of the Department of Toxics at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.

Ten Commandments to overcome the EU's many crises

A series of missteps - from the faulty institutional infrastructure of the euro, to the migration crisis - have left the EU battered and in near crisis. Here are ten steps to re-democratise the union.

EU's 'old men' must pressure Poland on abortion rights

Despite fresh crackdowns on Poland's already restrictive abortion laws, EU commission president Juncker did not raise the issue with the new Polish PM Morawiecki - perhaps because it was an all-male event?

News in Brief

  1. Dutch environment group appeals air quality ruling
  2. Commission opens case into Polish railways state aid
  3. EU remove eight places from tax havens blacklist
  4. UK to keep forces in Germany over Russia fears
  5. Finnish presidential vote could go to second round
  6. Report: EU might pay Brexit residency fees for EU citizens
  7. Puigdemont free to travel around EU
  8. Italy's 5 Star drops euro referendum plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Free AlllianceNo Justice From the Spanish Supreme Court Ruling
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  3. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  5. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  7. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  9. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  10. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  11. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  12. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted
  2. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  3. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  4. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  5. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  6. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  7. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  8. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  9. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  11. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  12. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  3. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  4. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  5. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  6. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  8. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  9. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  10. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  11. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  12. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know