15 July 2015 / Europe, Priority substances
Different views on how the European Commission’s impending strategy to promote the circular economy should address the issue of hazardous substances emerged at last month’s meeting of Competent Authorities for REACH and CLP (Caracal).
A consultation on policy options for promoting a circular economy was issued by the European Commission in late May as part of its plans to issue an action plan by the end of this year (CW 4 March 2015). The options will address the full lifecycle of products and include actions on product design, reuse and repair of products, recycling and waste policy.
It is also likely to address the issue of hazardous substances in materials.
NGOs and some member states say one way of helping to maximise the production of good quality recyclate and remanufactured products is by ensuring that hazardous substances are taken out of the loop of waste, recycling and reuse as much as possible; other stakeholders argue that banning hazardous substances under REACH, either through authorisation or restriction, is a barrier to recycling because such substances are so prevalent in materials already in use.
A paper presented to Caracal by the UK says: “There are fears that REACH controls could impede recycling, including remanufacturing, and possibly even effective maintenance, for example, through the loss of spare parts, leading to machinery or articles being scrapped prematurely.”
Although the circular economy “does not detract from the REACH aims and processes for management of chemicals”, says the paper, “regulatory control of recovered materials should be based on risk assessment, not simply a response to the presence of a hazard.”
In addition, it says, “socio-economic analysis under REACH should include an assessment of the various resource and other environmental impacts (for example, carbon and material footprints, sustainable production).” This would compare “the relative impacts of material recovery versus virgin production.”
If such an assessment concluded there would be an overall negative environmental impact, a proposed REACH control, it says, should not proceed.
In contrast, a similar paper presented to Caracal by Sweden says: “SVHCs ending up in recycled materials are an obstacle to high quality material”, and waste containing such substances “should not be considered as material recoverable waste”.
Existing product-specific legislation, it says, should be amended to include further restrictions on SVHCs, and requirements to provide information on SVHC content should be included under the EU eco-design Directive. Sweden says new EU legislation on product recycling and recovery should include requirements to provide similar information.
Meanwhile, a non-binding Resolution on the circular economy, adopted last week by the European Parliament, includes a call for the Commission, member states and Echa to “step up their efforts to substitute SVHCs and to restrict substances that pose unacceptable risks to human health or the environment in the context of REACH … so that recycled waste can be used as a major, reliable source of raw material within the Union.”
Adding its voice of those of top Echa officials, and some members of the agency’s management board (CW 9 July 2015), the Resolution “also calls, in this respect, on the Commission to immediately drop its unilateral moratorium on the processing of recommendations by Echa, with regard to the inclusion of SVHCs in Annex XIV to REACH, and instead proceed swiftly with the inclusion of such substances.”
“Recycling should not justify the perpetuation of the use of hazardous legacy substances,” says the Resolution, and the Commission and member states should “step up their efforts to substitute hazardous substances in the context of the RoHS Directive, with a view to establishing non-toxic material cycles.”