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The European Commission adopted new Chemicals Strategy towards a toxic-free environment

On 14 October 2020, the European Commission finally adopted a new strategy to step towards a zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment, as part of the European Green Deal. The new Chemicals Strategy towards a toxic-free environment aims to better protect citizens and the environment and to boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals.

What is the Green Deal?

Climate change and environmental degradation are the biggest existential threat to planet Earth in the 21st century. As a reaction to the still-growing economic growth causing increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, the European Authorities provided a plan to make the EU’s economy sustainable called the European Green Deal.

The Green Deal provides an action plan to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to the circular economy, to restore biodiversity and to cut pollution, saying that its goal is to “make Europe climate neutral by 2050”. So far, the Green Deal, proposed in 2019 is “only” a political commitment, however, the European Commission proposes a European Climate Law to turn this commitment into a legal obligation for all member states.

The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability

One of the key commitments of the European Green Deal is to cut pollution in the EU drastically, however, the production of the global chemical is still expected to double by 2030 despite the sophisticated chemicals laws already in place. Even though the REACH Regulation entered into force in 2007 already, Europe was still the second-biggest producer of chemicals in 2018. Therefore, the Commission published a Chemicals strategy for Sustainability last year, describing the following actions to take place:

  • “banning the most harmful chemicals in consumer products – allowing their use only where essential
  • account for the cocktail effect of chemicals when assessing risks from chemicals
  • phasing out the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the EU, unless their use is essential
  • boosting the investment and innovative capacity for production and use of chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design, and throughout their life cycle
  • promoting the EU’s resilience of supply and sustainability of critical chemicals
  • establishing a simpler “one substance one assessment” process for the risk and hazard assessment of chemicals
  • playing a leading role globally by championing and promoting high standards and not exporting chemicals banned in the EU”

As an unmistakable sign that “something is happening”, the Commission already provided indicative timings on the revision of REACH and CLP at the beginning of March and is establishing a high-level roundtable on the implementation of the Strategy, with representatives from industry, science, and the civil society to discuss the objectives with the stakeholders concerned. The aim of this roundtable discussion will address social, economic, and cultural barriers to the transition towards safe and sustainable chemicals.

Some concerns about the consequences of implementing the strategy were already voiced, warning about wrong timing. The Association of Chemical Industry in Germany points out that in addition to the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the chemical industry and the users of its product are facing uncertain and difficult times. In their opinion, stability and reliable planning are necessary to overcome the crisis and changing the current legislation would slow down its handling and paralyse the economy for many years. In addition, they claim that the current European chemical laws are working and are sufficient to achieve the intended protection goals (climate neutrality by 2050).

Over 50 actions towards implementing the Strategy are planned by 2024.


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