The new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability: building a game-changing framework for Europe

Takeaways from "At the crossroads between chemical, product and waste policies - The new EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability" webinar on 4 March 2021.

“Among the objectives set by the European Commission, in the framework of the EU Green Deal, is the ambition for a toxic-free environment by 2030, and this is only possible if chemicals are produced in a way that maximises the benefits to the society while avoiding harm to the planet.” This, the opening statement of Mr Finn Pedersen, Seconded National Expert at the European Commission and keynote speaker of APPLiA’s webinar, who kicked off the event by shedding light on the main challenges and opportunities presented by the EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability. “It is in the design phase of products, that the environmental impact is determined for their entire lifetime, and this is where the key concept of safe and sustainable products by design comes in” Mr Pedersen continued, while stressing the importance of reducing the presence of substances of concern while increasing the use of recycled materials.

Over the past years, the ambitious goals set by the European Green Deal called for an increased focus on the use of harmful substances in products. Peter van der Zandt, Director of Risk Management at the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), was the first panelist to set the scene for the discussion. “Data show that over 80% of European citizens are concerned about the impact that chemicals can have on their daily lives and the environment, and we need to take care of this” he explained. “Increasing protection of children, professional users, workers and consumers in general, is one of ECHA’s main prerogatives, while supporting the work of the EU Commission in taking up all the action points envisioned by the EU Chemical Strategy.” To this extent, Mr van der Zandt pointed out to the key role played by the Strategy in boosting clean circularity through research and innovation, to ultimately develop criteria for safe and sustainable by design, chemicals. 

Speaking on behalf of the chemicals industry, Nicolás Fuentes Colomer, Product Stewardship Manager at the European Chemicals Industry Council (Cefic), highlighted the importance of a joint and coordinated approach among industries, institutions and all stakeholders. “It is only by analysing the already existing regulations that we can fully understand what works and what doesn’t” he explained. “The EU Chemical Strategy represents a paradigm shift for the chemicals policy for the decades to come, entailing a data-driven approach, transparency, expertise, coordinated industry implementation and value chain cooperation. Only in this way, we can turn it into an opportunity for all nations across Europe.”

Where does the home appliance sector stand at the crossroads between chemical, product and waste policies? Lara Carrier, APPLiA’s Environment & Chemicals Policy Manager, provided the overview of the home appliance sector in Europe. “While APPLiA welcomes the new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability as it commits to harmonise, simplify and strengthen the EU rules on chemicals,” she started “we believe discussion is needed among all relevant stakeholders to define criteria and properly assess and manage chemicals in Europe.” By keeping an eye to the entire EU policy framework for a Circular Economy, Ms Carrier pointed out that “a risk-based assessment methodology should remain the fundamental principle.” APPLiA drafted a position paper providing the European Commission with the views of the sector and further recommendations regarding the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, as part of the European Green Deal. 

Closing up the panel, Mr Chaim Waibel, Advocacy Advisor at Plastics Recyclers Europe, moved the focus on the impacts the Strategy will have on plastic recycling. “The EU Chemical Strategy will introduce stricter rules on plastic waste, targeting all substances and ultimately covering the whole market in Europe,” he stated. “The design of toxic-free and recyclable products is key. Design, recycling, better sorting and innovation are all technologies that can help boost the way recycling quality outputs are delivered today.” To this extent, Mr Waibel explained that investments are needed to modernise the industry. “Innovation in sustainable chemicals by design and cross value chain information on chemical composition, can this way ensure a chain of custody for plastic waste,” he concluded. 

Building on the valuable contributions offered by the panellists, Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA’s Director General, closed the webinar by outlining that “the challenges presented by the EU Chemicals Strategy are not negligible ones, however digitalisation, together with the creation of a single market for waste will be essential elements to help tackle the dimension of the issue.” 

Watch the full recording of the webinar at this link