The EU Chemicals Strategy
The European Chemicals Strategy is a long-term plan to accelerate the phasing-out of the most harmful chemicals used in our society. At the same time, the EU wishes to promote the development of sustainable alternatives to harmful substances. As such, the Chemicals Strategy provides us with important conditions for the achievement of the Swedish environmental goal of A Non-Toxic Environment.
The purpose of the EU Chemicals Strategy is to strengthen chemical legislation in the EU in order to deal with serious environmental and health issues. The most harmful chemicals and the unnecessary use of hazardous chemical substances will be phased out. In addition, the Commission hopes that the strategy will promote innovation and thereby also increase the global competitiveness of European industry. The sectors and areas specifically referred to include building materials, textiles, low-carbon mobility, batteries, wind turbines and renewable energy sources. The Chemicals Strategy is part of the European Green Deal, which is an extensive package of strategies and actions aimed at the climate, the environment and sustainability.
The Strategy is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals included in the UN 2030 Agenda, as well as the Swedish environmental objective of A Non-Toxic Environment. A Non-Toxic Environment is one of the Swedish environmental objectives that form the basis of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s activities. In the latest in-depth evaluation of the Non-Toxic Environment goal, the importance of the EU Chemicals Strategy and its implementation is highlighted as a condition for its achievement.
Sweden and the Swedish Chemicals Agency contributed to the preparation of the EU Chemicals Strategy, e.g. through a national expert who has been working on the strategy at the European Commission. We have also supported the Swedish Government by providing it with supporting documents, analyses and written input during our work on the strategy. Now that the strategy is in place, the Swedish Chemicals Agency has an important role to play in the ongoing work to develop and strengthen the EU’s chemical regulations. We currently have a national expert in the Commission to support in the continued process. We also verify compliance with the regulations in Sweden through testing and supervision.
An 80-action strategy
In total, the EU Chemicals Strategy consists of around 80 actions, 56 of which are to be implemented by 2024. In addition to accelerating the phasing-out of hazardous substances, the Commission wishes to stimulate innovation, improve protection against hazardous substances, and raise awareness of the environmental and health-related properties of chemicals. The Chemicals Strategy contains actions targeting endocrine-disrupting substances, hazardous substances found in articles, including articles imported into the EU, and persistent chemicals such as PFAS. The Strategy also contains actions to promote the non-toxic recycling of materials and better handling of the combination effects of various chemicals.
The EU regulations being strengthened
A tangible example of how the EU Chemicals Strategy operates is the CLP Regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of chemical products such as glue, cleaning agents and paint. A Commission proposal for a broader and revised CLP Regulation will now be negotiated during the Swedish EU Presidency. The Commission proposes, amongst other things, that five new classes of hazardous chemicals are included in the legislation along with criteria for their identification.
These new classes will be the basis for the identification of substances that are
- persistent and bioaccumulative
- very persistent and bioaccumulative
- persistent, mobile and toxic
- very persistent and very mobile in soils and water.
The identification of substances under these new classes is the foundation for a faster and more efficient phasing-out of these hazardous substances’ use, primarily in chemical products and articles. This will be achieved through general prohibitions on their use in the REACH Regulation and other legislation.
Other legislation that will be strengthened and developed as a result of the EU Chemicals Strategy regards packaging materials, cleaning agents, toys and cosmetics.
Two principles for the phasing-out of hazardous substances
Through the Chemicals Strategy, the EU takes a more preventive approach, whereby it is better to prevent toxic chemicals at the design stage than to try to control them when they are already in the market. Another principle introduced in the strategy is a general prohibition on the use of the most harmful chemicals, referred to as “generic approach to risk management”. Exceptions are only made if they are necessary for the protection of people’s health or security, or for society to function. The new principles are intended to be introduced, inter alia, through the REACH and CLP Regulations.