Hazardous waste and circular economy
The EU’s chemicals strategy for sustainability aims to better protect human health and the environment from hazardous substances. However, with the aim to transition towards a circular economy, the presence of legacy hazardous substances in waste streams that may return to consumer products after waste recycling is of concern for public health and environmental pollution. With the growing amount of waste each year, clear identification of hazardous waste is crucial to ensure safe recycling practices. Especially waste handlers should be aware of the regulatory landscape to safely re-introduce substances and products on the market. In previous newsletters, we already wrote about the SCIP database for this purpose. However, in addition to tracking SVHC substances, what do regulations tell about hazardous criteria for wastes?
As we will elaborate below, when looking into waste and chemical-related regulations in the EU, the CLP regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 appears to be the cornerstone for hazard classification.
The search for regulatory hazardous criteria will be approached here from two angles: from the sides of the waste-related and the chemical-related regulations.
First, a trip back in time, to 1992, the year the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal came into force as a response to public protests on the disposal of hazardous waste in developing countries. This Convention by worldwide participating countries, prohibits countries to dispose of their hazardous waste to non-Parties unless the receiving country agrees and can process the waste in an environmentally sound manner. Hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are listed in the Annexes and are rendered hazardous when they exhibit certain hazardous characteristics (e.g. explosive, toxic) listed in Annex III. However, there are no clear criteria provided, such as concentration limits, when to classify waste as hazardous, and Basel refers to national regulations for hazard classification.
Indeed, more regionally, the EU adopted the Basel convention into the Shipment of Waste Regulation, (EC) No 1013/2006. In general, rules are the same as in the Basel Convention to provide procedures and control regimes for waste shipments within the EU and from/to the EU. Again no clear criteria for hazard classification are provided. However, it refers to the Waste Framework Directive (WFD; 2008/98/EC) for hazardous classification criteria.
The WFD indeed brings more clarity. This framework provides measures for the protection of the environment and human health through waste minimization. Here, in Annex III hazardous classification is divided into different hazard classes according to the United Nations’ Globally Harmonized System of the classification and labelling of chemicals (GHS), such as explosive, acute toxic and ecotoxicity classes with corresponding hazard statements. Also, concentration limits are provided for substances that display certain characteristics, which is crucial to determine whether a certain waste is hazardous (having substances above the concentration limit) or not (below the concentration limit). Interestingly, since the Regulation came into force, the EU has updated the hazardous classification to become more in line with the CLP regulation (Classification, Labelling and Packaging; (EC) No 1272/2008), a chemicals approach to hazardous classification.
Here we arrived at the chemical regulations approach. The major EU chemical-related regulation is REACH, ((EC) No 1907/2006), an acronym for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. This regulation requires manufacturers and importers of chemicals of one tonne or more to carry out a hazard and risk assessment. Also, several substances of very high concern are (intended to be) phased out or require authorization before manufacturing or import into the EU. To be able to classify substances, REACH refers to the CLP regulation to identify hazardous properties of substances. The EU CLP Regulation adopts the United Nations’ GHS classification across all EU countries, thus facilitating a worldwide harmonized approach to hazard classification. Moreover, concentration limits for mixtures are provided to be able to determine whether it is hazardous or not.
Although there are some differences in the hazard classes (e.g. infectious waste in WFD and not in CLP), summing up our journey through different regulations in the EU, both the waste and chemical regulations in the EU clearly point toward the CLP regulation as the basis for hazard classification, thereby connecting waste and chemical regulations.
Figure 1: The CLP regulation provides the basis for hazard classification of both EU waste and chemical regulations. The Basel Convention provides an overview of hazardous characteristics for waste classification without specific criteria but refers to national regulations instead. In the EU, Basel is implemented as Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 (Shipments of Waste), with updated Annexes stipulated in Regulation (EU) 2020/2174. In the Shipments of Waste, a reference can be found to the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) for specific criteria for hazardous waste classification. These hazard classes are in line with the CLP regulation (EC No 1272/2008) which was designed to use for the classification of hazardous substances and mixtures as required under REACH (Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006). Thus, although some differences exist between waste and chemical hazardous classification, the CLP hazard classification is the cornerstone of the EU’s waste and chemical regulations.
Is it hazardous or not?
However, does CLP determine hazard classifications for substances, mixtures as well as waste streams in all cases? No, not necessarily. Many criteria and entries in the WFD mirror the criteria in the CLP regulation, although there are some differences. Therefore, the classification of substances and substances in mixtures has to be done according to CLP whereas the presence of hazardous substances contained in waste has to be evaluated in line with Annex III to the WFD.
The differences between the waste and chemicals regulations have been noted by the EU as well and are under discussion to define a path forward to fully align both waste and chemicals regulations and promote a truly circular economy safe for humans and the environment.
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