Hazardous substances in products face international scrutiny

Hazardous chemicals in products like toys and pizza boxes are a global threat and must be regulated under an international protocol, NGOs told the European Commission ahead of a UN meeting in Stockholm next month.

A legally binding protocol in supply chains across the world is needed to avoid the presence and improve the tracking of hazardous chemicals in products, said several NGOs in a letter to the European Commission this week.

The letter was sent ahead of a UN meeting where world leaders will discuss a post-2020 policy framework to minimise the adverse impact of chemicals on the environment and human health.

The signatories include, among others, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and ECOS.

The meeting will take place in Stockholm on 13-15 March as part of the UN’s Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), which promotes chemical safety around the world.

NGOs have called for a ban of most hazardous chemicals based on criteria from the UN’s Globally Harmonised System (GHS), which provides health and safety information on carcinogenic and other hazardous substances.

The groups have also urged the European Commission to support laws fostering the disclosure of information on hazardous chemicals in product supply chains, including where they are found in the products and their concentrations.

The current national frameworks and voluntary agreements have so far failed to ensure that information is properly passed along the materials cycle, from manufacturers to recyclers. The fact that only one company has so far joined the voluntary Chemicals in Products Programme adopted by the UN in 2015 is indicative of the magnitude of the problem, they wrote.

This failure is believed to hinder efforts to recycle and recover materials safely.

A recent study by the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) found that some toys contain highly toxic flame retardants that are typically found in plastic components of electronic products.

Tatiana Santos, chemicals policy officer at the EEB, told META:

“Could you imagine manufacturing toys without knowing the composition of the plastics being used; toys that children surely will end up putting in their mouths? Or selling pizzas in cardboard without knowing that it may contain harmful chemicals?”

The NGOs said that an international and legally-binding framework is needed due to the transnational nature of supply chains spanning many countries with different legislations and various degrees of law enforcement and compliance.

Very few hazardous chemicals are currently regulated by global conventions, with many failing to fulfill the inclusion criteria despite posing a threat to human health and the environment.

In December 2015, the EU set as a priority the transition to a circular economy, where waste is prevented and materials recycled. As part of its action plan, it is currently analysing policy options to avoid chemicals in products which may hinder recycling or be hazardous to health.

The EU’s most recent strategy to counter plastic pollution also contains a pledge to foster cleaner material streams by tracing and removing contaminants before recycling plastics.


Read more


NGOs letter to the European Commission


EEB Report: How to protect the circular economy from hazardous substances