EEB and CHEM Trust flag threats posed by REACH legislation postponements in new study
15 Mar 2023 --- Further delaying the EU’s landmark reform on chemical laws may, in the long-term, threaten its industry’s competitiveness and resilience. This was the warning communicated by the European Environment Bureau (EEB) and CHEM Trust in a report issued today.
In their study, the EEB and CHEM Trust analyzed the impact of such a postponement, showing that the impact goes “beyond a mere delay.” The agencies stress that the current parliamentary term would have no chance to finish institutional negotiations before elections in 2024, significantly delaying the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) revision further.
Ultimately, they stress this would “damage the Green Deal legacy” and create further uncertainties about the direction of the EU chemicals industry.
PackagingInsights speaks with the EEB about the study’s main findings, how they justify a timely REACH proposal publication by the EC and the influence of next year’s European elections on the proposal. We also discuss opposing voices to a draft reform and possible consequences for the industry if REACH was to be delayed.
It was on October 18, 2022 that the EC announced a 12-month delay for the publication of the revision proposal of REACH, moving it to the fourth quarter of 2023, according to its 2023 Work Programme document.
Critical aspects of the document that pledged action against harmful chemicals had been deleted and replaced with “the aim of securing European competitive advantages.”
To avoid “devastating consequences,” EEB and CHEM Trust now call on the EC to publish the REACH proposal at the latest by June 2023, in order to ensure that the regulatory process is advanced to a state that allows it to be concluded swiftly after the start of the new EC’s mandate in 2024.
“Our report demonstrates that the only scenario where there will be some predictability and certainty that the new REACH would stick to its commitments related to the environmental and human health protection as well as increased competitiveness, is by June 2023,” Tatiana Santos, head of Chemicals Policy at the EBB tells us.
“As of September, the European Parliament will not be able to effectively vote in the first reading, meaning that the future of REACH would be largely uncertain.”
Race against PFAS proliferation
The report attempts to qualitatively describe the gains expected from the REACH reform. These include an increased level of human health and environmental protection and improved innovation and competitiveness of the European industry.
Santos warns that generic, fast-track restrictions of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – known as “forever chemicals” – in every day consumer products will not be possible until REACH is reformed. “The generic approach to risk management is currently only possible for carcinogens, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) chemicals.”
“The reform of REACH foresees the widening of the scope from CMRs to other hazard categories, such as persistent chemicals, i.e., PFAS. This means that the only available tool to restrict PFAS is the ‘normal’ restrictions procedure, which, according to the EEB’s ‘Need for Speed’ report, takes between two and 11 years. Fast track restrictions would take between one and two years instead.”
Furthermore, information on most PFAS manufacture, use and hazardous properties will remain lacking. “There is a general lack of the PFAS manufactured and used in Europe since many PFAS are either manufactured, used or imported in low volumes or they are polymers. Both low volume and polymers are explicitly exempted from REACH information requirements,” asserts Santos.
Saving the Green Deal
The report states the European Green Deal raised an urgent need to reform REACH and fix these major shortcomings to increase protection and ensure that European industries innovate toward safer and more environmentally sustainable chemicals.
“The European elections impact mainly the capacity of the European Parliament to vote on the legal reform. The current parliament would have no chance to finish its first reading before the elections in 2024, significantly delaying the REACH revision even further,” highlights Santos.
“This would further damage the Green Deal legacy and create huge uncertainties about the direction the EU chemicals industry should move toward, just at times when clarity is needed the most. Problems could emerge if the new parliament has substantially different priorities from the outgoing parliament,” she explains.
Speaking at an event on REACH reform hosted by Renew Europe in Brussels, Belgium, last week, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said European Commission officials are “working full speed on the revision” and that the REACH proposal will be ready “hopefully before summer.”
Opponents fear a loss of business
Santos says at the beginning of 2022 and “capitalizing on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the German industry associations (VCI and BDI) conducted an aggressive lobby against the revision of REACH, arguing that there was ‘no time for experiments.’”
position paper in September 2022.The associations suggested that any changes in policy could be “deeply detrimental” for the European industry, even though the EU-sold production of chemicals is on the rise. The EPP group also called for a “regulatory moratorium of REACH” in its
“A delay in the REACH reform causes a high level of uncertainty for the industry as the regulatory framework remains unclear and no clear signal is sent to the market and investors regarding the phase-out of hazardous substances and the direction in which innovation will need to go,” warns Santos.
“Delaying the publication of the REACH revision would potentially lead to a loss of market share to competitors from countries such as China and the US.”
Santos fears that the development and resilience of the EU chemicals industry and SMEs will be “hampered due to a lack of a clear direction” at the moment when it needs to invest in the transition. Meanwhile, she expects that frontrunner companies that have already invested in the substitution of hazardous substances will be penalized.
“European companies, SMEs and frontrunners will lose competitiveness and innovation capacity and stay behind the global market on sustainable and safe chemicals,” she remarks. “Also, investors would not finance companies within the EU due to high litigation risks of the use of hazardous chemicals.”
Patrick ten Brink, secretary general of the EEB, tells PackagingInsights that citizens have been asking for bold policies to speed up the pace of change toward a clean, resilient and toxic-free future. “By prioritizing short-term profits over people and the environment, the EU risks losing citizens’ trust and risks compromising long-term competitiveness and resilience.”
“Furthermore, any delay in the REACH revision will undermine Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal legacy. A ‘person on-the-moon-moment’ risks being missed.”
By Natalie Schwertheim
To contact our editorial team please email us at email@example.com
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.