Hazardous chemicals are holding back the safe and sustainable by design approach

2021-04-15

Avoiding substances of concern is the very first step when implementing a safe and sustainable by design process, and chemical safety is a key criterion for sustainable products, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). This is most welcome validation of facts that we at ChemSec have known and talked about for a long time.

The EEA recently published a briefing describing the need for a new approach to chemicals, in order to design safe and sustainable products. The briefing has been produced to further emphasize the need for a wider and safer approach to the use of chemicals, which is also highlighted in the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.

Four key criteria contributing to the sustainability of products are identified in the briefing: chemical safety, resource use and circularity, greenhouse gas emissions, and impact on ecosystems. There is a clear focus on chemical safety to achieve sustainability, and several important findings are described.

Safety from known harm is not safe enough

The concept of “safety” might require some elaboration, since it is sometimes used in an alternative context, with different implications. Dr. Xenia Trier at EEA explains the meaning of the concept in the briefing:

“If you ask a citizen, most would understand ‘safe’ as being safe from diseases caused by chemicals, regardless of whether the chemicals are known or suspected to cause harm. It is this intuitive definition of safe that we mean.”

Non-toxic from the start – and through recycling loops

The briefing states that the very first action, when implementing a safe and sustainable by design process, is to avoid chemicals of concern. In other words: Ditch the hazardous stuff! As we at ChemSec have described in our report, The Missing Piece, using non-hazardous chemicals is the only way to achieve safe and sustainable products in the long run. This is increasingly true in a circular economy.

The importance of considering resource use and circularity is emphasized in the briefing. The end-of-life and continue-to-live options for products suitable for the circular economy must be considered. Recyclability is a central feature of any circular product design.

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Chemsec, 15 April 2021
; https://chemsec.org/hazardous-chemicals-are-holding-back-the-safe-and-sustainable-by-design-approach/