European Commission adopts new EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability

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The European Commission has adopted the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability as the first step towards a zero pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment announced in the European Green Deal.

The Strategy will boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals, and increase protection of human health and the environment against hazardous chemicals.

This includes prohibiting the use of the most harmful chemicals in consumer products such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, unless proven essential for society, and ensuring that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, commented on the announcement: “The Chemicals Strategy is the first step towards Europe’s zero pollution ambition.

“Chemicals are part and parcel of our daily life, and they allow us to develop innovative solutions for greening our economy.

“But we need to make sure that chemicals are produced and used in a way that does not hurt human health and the environment.

“It is especially important to stop using the most harmful chemicals in consumer products, from toys and childcare products to textiles and materials that come in contact with our food.”

Chemicals Strategy fully recognises the fundamental role of chemicals for human well-being and for the green and digital transition of European economy and society.

At the same time it acknowledges the urgent need to address the health and environmental challenges caused by the most harmful chemicals.

In this spirit, the Strategy sets out concrete actions to make chemicals safe and sustainable by design and to ensure that chemicals can deliver all their benefits without harming the planet and current and future generations.

This includes ensuring that the most harmful chemicals for human health and the environment are avoided for non-essential societal use, in particular in consumer products and with regard to most vulnerable groups, but also that all chemicals are used more safely and sustainably.

Several innovation and investment actions will be foreseen to accompany the chemicals industry through this transition.

The Strategy also draws the attention of Member States to the possibilities of the Recovery and Resilience Facility to invest in the green and digital transition of EU industries, including in the chemical sector. 

The Strategy aims to significantly increase the protection of human health and the environment from harmful chemicals, paying particular attention to vulnerable population groups.

Flagship initiatives include in particular:

  • Phasing out from consumer products, such as toys, childcare articles, cosmetics, detergents, food contact materials and textiles, the most harmful substances, which include among others endocrine disruptors, chemicals that affect the immune and respiratory systems, and persistent substances such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), unless their use is proven essential for society;
  • Minimising and substituting as far possible the presence of substances of concern in all products. Priority will be given to those product categories that affect vulnerable populations and those with the highest potential for circular economy;
  • Addressing the combination effect of chemicals (cocktail effect) by taking better account of the risk that is posed to human health and the environment by daily exposure to a wide mix of chemicals from different sources;
  • Ensuring that producers and consumers have access to information on chemical content and safe use, by introducing information requirements in the context of the Sustainable Product Policy Initiative.

The Strategy envisages the EU industry as a globally competitive player in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals.

This will be done mainly by:

  • Developing safe-and-sustainable-by-design criteria and ensuring financial support for the commercialisation and uptake of safe and sustainable chemicals;
  • Ensuring the development and uptake of safe and sustainable-by-design substances, materials and products through EU funding and investment instruments and public-private partnerships;
  • Considerably stepping up enforcement of EU rules both at the borders and in the single market;
  • Putting in place an EU research and innovation agenda for chemicals, to fill knowledge gaps on the impact of chemicals, promote innovation and move away from animal testing;
  • Simplifying and consolidating the EU legal framework – e.g. by introducing the ‘One substance one assessment’ process, strengthening the principles of ‘no data, no market’ and introducing targeted amendments to REACH and sectorial legislation.