Policymakers must limit chemicals entering the material cycle and adapt existing legislation in order to protect human health and the environment from toxic substances in a circular economy, say ClientEarth and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in a new report.
The NGOs indicate that the current legal framework has failed to ensure information about dangerous chemicals is diffused throughout the whole material cycle and potential subsequent lifecycles.
“The failure places economic operators in a situation where it is more costly to comply with legal requirements protecting human health and the environment when using recycled and recovered materials than with using virgin ones,” the report says.
In its 2015 EU Action Plan, the EU set as a priority the transition to a circular economy, where goods are used, recycled or repurposed. However, applying circular principles to products containing hazardous chemicals will require careful consideration.
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“Allowing dangerous chemicals in a circular economy would mean infinite exposure of people and the environment to toxics, and perpetuating the mistakes from the past,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alice Bernard.
Keeping It Clean: How to protect the circular economy from hazardous substances analyzes the benefits and shortcomings of EU chemicals, product and waste legislation, and offers recommendations to improve the legal framework for a better circularity of materials.
Limiting hazardous chemicals from entering the material cycle in the first place is essential, according to the report, and would facilitate the future use of recovered materials for companies and therefore the circular economy. To achieve this, the two NGOs call for implementation of REACH and other legislation restricting the use of hazardous chemicals.
Keeping It Clean also urges policymakers to ensure companies have access to sufficient information on the presence, location and concentration of hazardous chemicals in products and materials recovered from waste. Such a move will help reduce the burden on businesses making products with recovered materials and improve the protection of human health and the environment.
“At the moment, information about dangerous chemicals in products is lost during their lifecycle,” Bernard added. “This makes it extremely difficult and expensive for companies to know whether they can use a product, greatly increasing the risk of it going to landfill.”
Policymakers must also ensure the laws are equally as protective when products are made from recovered materials as when they are made from virgin materials. This means requiring appropriate decontamination of waste before it can be recovered and requiring that materials are equally safe when first produced, as well as when they are recycled.
In January, the European Commission published a roadmap outlining actions it plans to take to analyze and create policies that address legislation relevant to chemicals, products and waste. At the same time, European NGOs published a paper on bioplastics in the circular economy, calling for an overall reduction in the use of plastic.