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New EU circular economy plan aims to promote non-toxic material cycles

The European Commission has today launched a new set of policies on the Circular Economy. Many environmental groups are rightly criticising a weakening in many areas, including recycling targets. However, the new Closing the loop‘ Action Plan does include a plan to analyse and propose options in order “to reduce the presence and improve the tracking of chemicals of concern in products”. CHEM Trust views this as a positive commitment, though we believe it needs to be rapidly transformed into concrete measures to ensure hazardous chemicals don’t get in the way of the circular economy.

The Closing the loop‘ Action Plan also links the promotion of non-toxic material cycles to a future EU strategy for a non-toxic environment, which was announced in the EU’s 7th Environmental Action Plan:

“The promotion of non-toxic material cycles and better tracking of chemicals of concern in products will facilitate recycling and improve the uptake of secondary raw materials. …The Commission will therefore develop its analysis and propose options for action to overcome unnecessary barriers while preserving the high level of protection of human health and the environment. This work will feed into the future EU strategy for a non-toxic environment. “

The original Circular Economy package was published by the previous Commission, and was earmarked for withdrawal by the Juncker Commission, but was then saved at the last minute by a campaign involving industry, environmental groups, Member States and MEPs. The Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans claimed that this revised package would be ‘more ambitious‘, but many are questioning whether this has been realised, though it is true that the previous package didn’t propose any new action on chemicals.

CHEM Trust submitted a briefing to the Commission’s consultation on the Circular Economy in August 2015, in which we emphasised that the only sustainable circular economy is a clean one, free of harmful chemicals. We had also earlier agreed a joint position on the subject with other environmental groups.

Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust, said:

We welcome the Commission’s commitment to developing measures that will promote non-toxic material cycles. The only sustainable circular economy is a clean one, with hazardous materials phased out. We now need rapid action to get the worst chemicals out of the economy, so they no longer disrupt recycling and the rest of the circular economy”

Last week, the European Parliament gave strong support to the importance of clean materials cycles, when they voted overwhelmingly to oppose the authorisation of the phthalate DEHP in recycled PVC, something CHEM Trust has also opposed. You can see the names of the 603 MEPs who voted in favour, 86 against and 5 abstentions on the Vote Watch site.

CHEM Trust has been highlighting the problems of chemical contamination of products made from recycled materials. For example, in a talk on “Creating clean material cycles: Problems and Solutions“, given at the European Environment Agency at the end of October, we highlighted examples of contamination in pizza boxes (made from recycled paper), plastic kitchen utensils and children’s toys.