Articles and materials
A large proportion of the products currently on sale contain or have been treated with chemical products.
In the case of products that have been painted this can be easy to see, but even clean items that we perhaps do not immediately associate with chemicals may contain many chemical products. The example below shows that an everyday office chair can contain far more chemicals than one may first think.
- the textile covering may have been treated with flame retardant
- the wooden framework may be varnished or painted
- the foam plastic in the seat cushion may contain traces of foaming agent
- the plastic in the armrests may contain chemical additives, e.g. in the form of stabilisers
- the metal parts may have been surface treated with chromium
- the rubber wheels may also contain various types of additive chemicals
From a recycling point of view the content of problematic chemicals can hinder recycling.
Looking for chemicals in articles – how is it done?
To obtain more information on how you can set about finding the content in an article you can use the following suggestions *(1).
- Prioritise which articles you want to know more about. This applies whether they are articles that you manufacture, import, sell or buy.
- Which materials are important can depend on what amount or weight percentage they have. The application area or what happens to the product when it becomes waste can also affect how important it is to know which substances are included in the material being used.
What you want to know more about can also depend on whether certain materials are particularly in focus from an environmental-political viewpoint, in the media or in the guidelines of your own organisation.
- Find out what material the article consists of. This can be done by dividing the article into different types of material. You can use the following main divisions as a basis. Note that this is a very simplified method.
Different materials are also often associated with the presence of different chemical substances. Some examples are given below of substances that are associated with various materials or additives. The following list is not comprehensive and only provides some common examples.
Plastics and rubber can contain, among other things, lead contaminants, chromates, tin contaminants, chloroparaffins, phthalates and possibly aromatics.
Textiles can contain, among other things, formaldehyde, anti-mildew agents, flame retardants, dyes and impregnation agents, such as PFOS (Perfluoroctane sulphonate).
Leather can contain, among other things, tanning substances such as chrome.
Metals are basic elements such as lead, iron, copper, mercury, aluminium, nickel, silver, tin and zinc. There are also alloys (blends of different substances).
Glass can contain, among other things, lead, arsenic or antimony.
Wood can contain wood preservatives which in turn contain chrome, arsenic, copper, creosote, etc.
Paper can contain, among other things, colouring.
Consider what functions are intended to be achieved chemically. For example they may provide the product or material with colour, smell, sustainability, fire protection, impregnation, mildew protection, softness, etc. Which chemical substances are included to fulfil these functions?
- Textiles can be divided into cotton and vegetable fibres, synthetic fibres, regenerated cellulose fibres and wool.
- There are also many different plastics and metals. Find out as much as you can about which plastics or metals the article contains. Suppliers can often help with information.
- Prioritise which materials you need more information about. Consider whether you need information about all of them, or only about the most meaningful.
- Think about what you want to know about the material. Decide to what depth of detail you want the information. Are you for example interested in particular environmental and health properties of the substances on the material? Those which are hard to break down, carcinogenic or allergenic are examples of environmental and health properties. One tip can be to find out which substances environmentally-labelled products must not contain. You can also search for substances which are forbidden or limited.
- Clarify for yourself the motives for obtaining information, and what it is to be used for.
- Set up procedures for documenting information.
- Turn to your supplier to find out more about the content of articles. You can for example ask about which plasticizer has been used in plastic, whether the articles contain a certain substance, etc.
- You can turn to various industrial associations and research institutes for more information about different materials and the substances they may contain.
- When you know what materials the articles are made of and which substances they contain, you can search in the PRIO tool to obtain more information concerning the environmental and health properties of the substances and what measures you may need to take.
Note that material science is a very complex area and the above steps are extremely simplified.
*1 This stage is based on "Vaerktöj till indsamling af miljöoplysninger hos leverandörer" (Tool for the collection of environmental information from suppliers). Miljöstyrelsen (The Environmental Board), Denmark. Link to Miljöstyrelsen http://www.mst.dk