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Chemical safety in a circular economy

Chemical safety in a circular economy

Currently, most of the products on the market get discarded after their use. They end up in landfills or are incinerated. This has to change. As our society slowly but steadily transitions towards a circular or closed-loop economy, the objective becomes to retain materials for as long as possible, reusing and recycling materials to minimize waste and reduce the need for additional resources.

The advantages of a circular system are clear: reducing pressure on the environment, securing the supply of raw materials, stimulating innovation, and boosting economic growth as well as creating jobs.

Although everyone is in favour of a higher degree of recycling, in practice it is not that simple. One of the big issues that many forget but important to realize is that that there are many (restricted) chemicals of concern currently present in products in our homes and offices, in furniture, electronics, plastics, etc. When articles are recycled, these substances may remain unidentified and are re-introduced on the market in various recycled products.

For a circular product to be successful it is essential that customers are confident in the quality and safety of the recycled materials. If due to lack of information on hazardous chemicals or due to the absence of clear regulatory control, this confidence is removed it is likely that the market will demand virgin materials and the progress towards a circular economy will be seriously hampered.

Unfortunately, in recent years this was the case. Examples include the presence of Substances of very High concern (Link to SCIP data base SVHC screening) in pizza boxes made from recycled cardboard and the presence of hazardous flame retardants which were once used in electronics found to be re-introduced on the market in plastic toys for children.

Although in many of these cases the risk of detrimental effects on humans or the environment were found to be minimal after further investigation, the reputational damage was considerable.

The regulatory frameworks needed to guarantee safe circular is currently developing at an increasingly rapid pace. Among other, end-of-waste criteria are being developed and implemented and ECHA is about to launch its SCIP data-base intended to contain information on Substances of Concern in articles, as such, or In complex objects (Products). The aim is to promote the substitution of hazardous chemicals and transition towards a safer circular economy. This way it is ensured that the information is available throughout the whole lifecycle of products and materials, including at the waste stage.

Both existing as well as new rules being implement to guarantee the safe re-introduction of chemicals and products on the market poses additional challenges to recyclers and secondary manufacturers.

Ecomatters Provided Support

  • Navigating the fast-developing regulatory legislation with respect to recovered materials such as:
    • Applicability of the REACH registration obligation with regard of recovered substances
    • Mandatory screening for Substances of very high concern (SVHC) link
  • A case specific screening for suitability of the recovered substance for its intended use (form a chemical safety perspective)
  • Assist in acquiring an end-of-waste ruling for your recovered material or substance.

In addition to chemical safety evaluations Ecomatters can support you is assessing the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life-cycle of the product.

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