Global chemical production is growing rapidly, supporting the green and digital transitions but also creating risks for health and ecosystems. According to a European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing, published this week, key policy measures foreseen in the European Commission’s chemicals strategy for sustainability offer significant potential to ensure consumer safety, cut pollution and clean up material flows.
Key actions for safer and more sustainable chemicals
Chemicals play a key role across economic sectors in Europe and globally, including agriculture, energy, healthcare, and manufacturing. Almost all consumer goods contain chemicals to improve product functionality. At the same time, evidence suggests that chemical pollution has exceeded safe limits at global level. Our pervasive use and release of chemicals means that today, the bodies of European citizens are contaminated with a large number of chemicals — some at levels damaging to health. Europeans are also concerned about the negative impacts of chemicals on health and the environment.
According to the EEA briefing ‘Managing the systemic use of chemicals in Europe’, the increasing production and consumption of chemicals creates challenges at global scale, ranging from negative impacts on people’s health and pollution of our environment to reinforcing our dependency on fossil fuels and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Evidence suggests that we have now exceeded the planetary boundary for chemical pollution. Chemicals in products also present a barrier to re-use or recycling, hampering resource efficiency and the transition to circular economy.
The EEA briefing highlights the importance of delivering on key actions, foreseen in the European Commission’s chemicals strategy for sustainability, to ensure safe products for citizens, keep ecosystems clean and healthy and support the transition to a circular economy. These include:
- Promoting chemicals that are safe and sustainable by design, harnessing the innovative capacity of the chemical industry to provide technologies, materials and products that are non-toxic, low-carbon and fit for circularity;
- Phasing out uses of harmful substances that are not essential. Harmful chemicals should be used only when they are necessary for health, safety or if critical for the functioning of society and if there are no acceptable alternatives; and
- Managing the risks of chemicals in groups, rather than one-by-one, to expedite protection of citizens and the environment.
The European Commission’s chemicals strategy for sustainability is part of the European Green Deal aiming to better protect citizens and the environment and to boost innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals in Europe.