Chemicals and the circular economy: Dealing with substances of concern

02-10-2017

Unlike the traditional linear economic model based on a 'take-make-consume-throw away' pattern, the circular economy is an economic model based on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling, in an (almost) closed loop. One of the challenges associated with this model is the presence of substances of concern in products, which risk being passed on to waste and subsequently recycled. A large number of European Union (EU) legal acts are relevant to the theme of substances of concern in material cycles. They relate to three broad areas: chemicals, products and waste. The European Commission is expected to publish a communication on the interface between these policy areas by the end of 2017. The main challenge in relation to chemicals and the circular economy is increasing recycling and reuse, while making sure consumers are not at risk from exposure to substances of concern that may be present in products and passed on to waste. More specific challenges relate, among other things, to long-term exposure, lack of information, trade aspects and implementation of EU law. Increased policy coherence in the current regulatory framework could help the situation. More specifically, elements of possible remedies include: disseminating information about the presence of substances of concern in products, reducing and substituting them, and improving the management of substances of concern that cannot be substituted. However, there may be some difficulties in implementing these solutions, in particular regarding the administrative burden and costs. The European Parliament supports the development of non-toxic material cycles so that recycled waste can be used as a major, reliable source of raw materials. Stakeholders' views on the topic are mixed.

Unlike the traditional linear economic model based on a 'take-make-consume-throw away' pattern, the circular economy is an economic model based on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling, in an (almost) closed loop. One of the challenges associated with this model is the presence of substances of concern in products, which risk being passed on to waste and subsequently recycled. A large number of European Union (EU) legal acts are relevant to the theme of substances of concern in material cycles. They relate to three broad areas: chemicals, products and waste. The European Commission is expected to publish a communication on the interface between these policy areas by the end of 2017. The main challenge in relation to chemicals and the circular economy is increasing recycling and reuse, while making sure consumers are not at risk from exposure to substances of concern that may be present in products and passed on to waste. More specific challenges relate, among other things, to long-term exposure, lack of information, trade aspects and implementation of EU law. Increased policy coherence in the current regulatory framework could help the situation. More specifically, elements of possible remedies include: disseminating information about the presence of substances of concern in products, reducing and substituting them, and improving the management of substances of concern that cannot be substituted. However, there may be some difficulties in implementing these solutions, in particular regarding the administrative burden and costs. The European Parliament supports the development of non-toxic material cycles so that recycled waste can be used as a major, reliable source of raw materials. Stakeholders' views on the topic are mixed.