The ban on toxic flame retardant stays, chemical industry dismissed by EU court


Recent European Commission legal win against chemical industry group sets an important precedent, holding the door open for more systematic restrictions of substances hampering circular economy under the new revision of the Ecodesign Directive, Bich Dao and Stéphane Arditi report.

Two years after the legal battle began between the European Commission and chemical industry group – Bromine Science Environmental Forum (BSEF), the General Court of the EU has dismissed the industry’s attempt to overturn the ban on the use of halogenated flame retardants (HRFs) in electronic displays.

Recycling nuisance

Originally introduced by the European Commission with the support of national experts, the ban on HFRs in electronic displays – the first such measure to be applied under the Ecodesign Directive, aimed to improve recycling of plastics parts of televisions and monitors, while also protecting public health.

HFRs in plastic material are added to slow down ignition in case of fire, but they are not without consequences on human health, and alternatives exist to fulfil the same function when needed.

The toxicity of some HFRs is widely recognised, many of which are based on bromine, several of which have already been banned for their potential health and environmental impact. Most notably in the case of the Ecodesign Directive, these flame retardant chemicals make it difficult if not impossible to safely recycle plastic parts of electric or electronic equipment (EEE). In fact, with current technical tests, it is not feasible for recyclers to easily distinguish between halogenated parts from normal ones, making it expensive to perfectly sort EEE waste on this dimension. A consequence of such a difficulty is that the nasty traces of restricted HFRs are found in recycled plastic products, including childrens’ toys and kitchen equipment, posing risks of cancer and hormone disruption in adults, as well as neurological deficits in children.The fight against HFRs extends beyond EEE plastic recycling.

Parallel to the campaign for electronics, phase-out calls in the furniture industry are also well underway, supported by an alliance of firefighters, the furniture industry, recyclers, governments, and health and environmental experts from around the world.

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European Environmental Bureau, 05-04-22