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Developed legislation is needed for non-toxic material cycles

News 6/24/2014

- The challenge for everyone involved in waste control and chemical control is to work together to manage risks with recycled materials, in a manner that takes account of the legislation on chemicals, says Per Bergman, author of a new report published by the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

Different legislation applies in the EU on chemicals and waste containing chemicals, and in many countries the responsibility for the two pieces is divided between agencies.

In many member states, as well as at the European Chemicals Agency and in committees of the European Commission discussions are going on about the division between what is waste and what is not when a material is recycled to be used again. 

Analysis of the legislation

The Swedish Chemicals Agency, supported by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, is now publishing a report where the legislation on chemicals and waste is analysed. Gaps are identified and proposals for measures are made.

Sweden has the following objectives to achieve a non-toxic life cycle of materials:

  • Use of substances of very high concern is to be phased out as far as possible.
  • Life-cycles are to be non-toxic and resource-efficient, which means that strict and comparable requirements should apply with regard to the content of hazardous substances in newly produced and recycled materials.
  • Information about substances in articles hazardous to health and the environment is to be made available to everyone concerned by 2020.

Problem areas

When it comes to waste, the current legislation often mentions materials, for example plastics, without further precision. Before assessing in what way the chemical legislation is applicable, it has first to be decided if the plastic is a chemical product or not. In the case of recycled plastic, the material is usually considered to have become a chemical product when the plastic has been recycled so far that it is no longer considered to be waste.

Plastic waste represents a complex waste stream that is particularly problematic when it comes to recycling. The present report provides a detailed analysis of how the rules apply to plastic materials. An extract from the Swedish Chemicals Agency Products Register shows that substances of very high concern are still very common in plastic. These substances must be dealt with if the material is to be recycled.
Another problem is that information about hazardous substances in materials is not always available to the recyclers. Waste operators and recyclers need better information on the chemicals in the products and materials in order to be able to handle the recycled material in a safe way.

Report 3/14 Rules on chemicals in the life-cycle of articles - a legal analysis.

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