Today, Wednesday, the Commission presented its long-awaited Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. Almost 20 years after the Commission last presented a comprehensive paper on chemicals policy, today’s publication is intended to pave the way towards a toxic-free environment. The chemicals strategy is the first concrete implementation of the “zero pollution” ambition of the European Green Deal. To remain economically viable and competitive, the chemical industry must invest in sustainable and future-proof technologies. Today’s strategy provides the industry with a supportive framework for a green innovation offensive.
A strategy for a toxic-free environment should have been presented as early as 2018 and has been repeatedly called for by the European Parliament and Council from the Commission. Prior to the publication of the strategy, my colleague Jutta Paulus and I presented our green action plan for the European chemical industry transition. The vast majority of the measures we called for are contained in the Commission’s strategy.
Sven Giegold, spokesman of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the European Parliament and Green shadow rapporteur on the chemicals strategy comments:
“The EU Commission has presented a strong strategy for the necessary transition of the chemical industry. This is the first major step towards a European chemical revolution. The strategy marks a new beginning of the phase-out of toxic chemicals in our everyday lives. This is also a success for us Greens, because the sustainable transition of the chemical industry was not a priority of the EU Commission for a long time. The EU Commission has achieved a major success in protecting consumers from toxic chemicals. Europe is heralding a chemical revolution that combines the protection of health and the environment with a future-oriented industrial policy. The chemicals strategy is an opportunity to create the framework conditions for a sustainable, competitive and pollutant-free European chemical industry. It is the blueprint for the restructuring of the industry in line with the Green Deal. Clean chemistry “Made in Europe” makes European industry fit for the future and secures over one million jobs. If the German and European chemical industry sleeps through the ecological transformation, it will suffer the same fate as key technologies in other sectors.
Europe has always been a pioneer in chemicals legislation. Now it is time to adapt the framework to climate change. The chemical industry must make the transition away from fossil raw materials to renewable resources and renewable energy. We need a European supply chain law to ensure the sustainable production of raw materials. Greenhouse gas neutrality must be achieved as quickly as possible.
In the future, consumers and the environment will be better protected from toxic substances. Dangerous substances will be banned from products more quickly, efficiently and more widely in the future. In this way, the EU is further strengthening its already leading chemicals legislation. It is particularly encouraging that endocrine disruptors will soon disappear from many products. The ban on toxins such as bisphenol-A will benefit our children. Bisphenol-A is suspected of causing chalk teeth in children. I am glad that Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius has kept his public commitment to me and that endocrine disruptors as well as carcinogenic substances will soon largely disappear from everyday products. Unfortunately, the EU Commission is not making any concrete commitments to restrict nanomaterials. Improvements are needed here.
Our domestic market is large enough. We can confidently set high standards to protect health and nature. But these high standards must not be undermined if imported products do not comply with laws. For this we need an effective European market surveillance program. The best laws are useless if EU manufacturers comply with them, but others do not.
There is a broad majority in the European Parliament for better protection of the environment and health. Today’s strategy is a first big step towards a real chemical turnaround, as called for in our green action plan. The many announcements must be implemented consistently. We stand ready to implement the chemical revolution together with the Commission, the Council, civil society and industry”.
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Link to the Chemical Strategy for Sustainability: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/strategy/chemicals-strategy_de
Link to my info about the decision of the European Parliament: https://sven-giegold.de/en/chemicals-strategy-eu-parliament/
Green Action Plan for the Transition of the European Chemical Industry: https://sven-giegold.de/en/action-plan-green-transition-chemical-industry/
Content of the strategy – summary of the main points
Safe and sustainable by design – prevention first
In the future, chemicals shall be “safe and sustainable by design. To this end, the Commission will develop criteria that will apply to all chemicals on the European market. In future, a toxic-free hierarchy will apply to chemicals management, similar to the waste hierarchy. The priority is not to use hazardous substances in products unless absolutely necessary. The second step is to minimize the exposure of humans and the environment to these hazardous substances. The third and last part of the hierarchy is to eliminate chemicals from the environment or waste products. A number of European laws are to be revised, including the REACH regulation, to improve the evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemical substances. This should provide incentives for industry to invest in sustainable and future-proof technologies.
Change in resource base only hinted at
The exit from fossil fuels and fossil raw materials is only hinted at. There are no concrete goals that would align the Chemicals Strategy with the European Green Deal. The chemical industry is part of the European Green Deal and must therefore be measured against these targets. In our action plan we demand very clearly that the chemical industry must make its contribution to climate protection. The sector as a whole must become climate neutral. Renewable resources must be produced and used in accordance with our European rules and values.
Fast and generic risk management
The Commission will extend the “generic approach to risk management” to ensure that consumer products – including, inter alia, food contact materials, toys, cosmetics, detergents, furniture and textiles – do not contain chemicals that cause cancer and genetic mutations, affect the reproductive and endocrine systems or are persistent and bioaccumulative. The vast majority of the most harmful chemicals in the EU are currently regulated on a case-by-case basis and for each specific use. This is costly and often leads to different regulations depending on the product group. Generic risk management determines the hazardousness of a chemical once, which automatically has consequences for all product groups. In this way, consumers can be protected faster and better from these particularly hazardous substances.
Endocrine disruptors to be driven out of products
I am particularly pleased that the Commission will propose a binding hazard identification of endocrine disruptors and will apply it across all legislation. Once identified, endocrine disruptors will be banned in consumer products, except in specific cases. In REACH endocrine disruptors are to be categorized as substances of very high concern.
4700 “forever chemicals” will be banned as a group
The use of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds (PFAS) is to be gradually banned in the EU unless it proves to be essential for society. For this purpose, all PFAS substances will be banned as a group in extinguishing foam in a first step. Thereafter, legislation on water, food, industrial emissions and waste will be adapted to regulate PFAS as a group.
Cocktail effects are avoided
For the first time, the Commission will analyze combination effects, so-called cocktail effects, of chemicals in the evaluation of substances. For this purpose, one (or more) mixture evaluation factor(s) will be introduced in REACH. All other relevant legislation on water, food additives, toys, food contact materials, detergents and cosmetics will also be revised to avoid dangerous combinations of substances.
The circular economy is to be strengthened by minimizing the use of substances of concern in products through the introduction of legal requirements and by providing information on the chemicals used. The Commission wants to make “Recycled in the EU” a label of quality. Hazardous substances in products and recycled materials should therefore be reduced to a minimum. In principle, the same limit value should apply to hazardous substances in new products and recycled materials.
Market surveillance improved but still incomplete
Although the Commission proclaims “zero tolerance” for non-compliance with EU law, it does not threaten Member States with infringement proceedings. However, the lack of enforcement of EU chemicals legislation is one of the biggest problems today. Countless poisoned products end up in the shopping baskets of European consumers every day. In order to protect EU citizens and producers from inferior products, the Commission proposes, as we have requested, to establish uniform minimum standards for the controls carried out by national authorities. The Commission will also audit national authorities directly. However, we would also have liked to see a European testing program for consumer goods across the continent.