ZWE’s response to public consultation on Chemicals, Products and Waste
by Ferran Rosa
In the frame of the policy discussions to transition towards a circular economy, the European Commission intends to produce a Communication on the interface of Chemicals, Products and Waste legislation. This should analyse and prepare policy options on how to address the interface of chemicals, products and waste legislation, including how to reduce the presence and improve the tracking of chemicals of concern in products.
ZWE has responded to the public consultation as it reads:
Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the stakeholder consultation of the European Commission’s work on the analysis of the interface between chemicals, products and waste legislation and identification of policy options.
From ZWE’s point of view, in this interface between the chemicals, products and waste regimes, several elements are needed to be addressed:
- Firstly, a qualitative prevention of hazardous chemicals from entering the material cycle. The development of non-toxic material cycles was already included as an objective of the 7th EAP and this is clearly needed both to transition to a non-toxic environment and to secure a circular economy in which high quality and clean materials can keep circulating. For that matter, and following the position of the European Parliament on the Waste Directive, the European Commission is urged to present a legislative proposal on waste prevention that also drives qualitative prevention of waste.
- The lack of sufficient information available for recyclers and waste operators on the toxicity of wastes, which brings in potential risks all along the value chain: including the employees of the recycling industries and the consumers of products with secondary raw materials who may be exposed to substances of concern or of very high concern without knowing it. The problems associated with the lack of traceability are further increased in the case of those materials being recycled outside of the EU, often in sub-standard conditions. An example of this was highlighted by IPEN who alerted that toxic flame retardant coming from recycled plastics was found in toys in the EU, giving an evidence of the total lack of traceability of materials.
- The need for Member States to have an easy way to meet European targets on recycling comes at the cost of less transparent calculation methods which bring in a lack of traceability of waste. This insufficient traceability is often translated into the recycling of European wastes containing toxic substances and the re-introduction of these secondary raw materials back in Europe’s economy without due information of the presence of these substances. A divergence between European standards and international ones does not only prevent a level-playing field between European and foreign operators but it is a real threat to Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. Two main solutions appear to this: on the one hand, the calculation method on recycling needs to get as close as possible to the actual recycling (thus closer to the balance of mass), so as to improve the traceability of the management of waste. On the other hand, the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions should level up the criteria, so as to avoid the re-introduction of toxic substances into the economy through sub-standard recycling in countries of the South, in line with the point expressed above.
In order to improve the rules included on these conventions, the EU’s role needs to be significantly improved, so as to avoid the double standard role the EU has played in the past, by which the EU was promoting the recycling of toxic substances in countries in the South. In case a level-playing field is not finally reached through these conventions (next one in 2019), the European Union should set clear rules guaranteeing that the import of secondary raw materials or products with secondary raw materials does not contain toxic substances.
- Additionally, this communication should acknowledge the need to ensure that the legal framework is not less protective of human health and the environment when products are made of recovered materials. This means notably requiring appropriate decontamination of waste before it can be recovered and avoiding restrictions of hazardous chemicals that are less protective when applied to recovered materials.
- Lastly, the lack of clearer rules for circular design of products and packaging hampers Europe’s transition to both a circular economy and a non-toxic environment. In this regard, the European Commission should complement the legislative proposal on Waste with guidance on how to modulate EPR fees to disincentive the use of toxic and potentially toxic substances. Additionally, in line with the European Parliament’s position on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the European Commission should update the essential requirements for packaging, so as to make sure that packaging put in the European market is free from toxic substances. Similarly, the European Commission is urged to accomplish the Communication ‘Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the Circular Economy’ and “promote the (…) recyclability of products by developing product requirements relevant to the circular economy in its future work under the Ecodesign Directive”. These product requirements should contain clear rules against toxic substances hampering the circularity of materials.