Plastics and the circular economy

HCF 2019 auditorium.croppedA stunning 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics produced since early 1950s. A miniscule amount of this plastic — created with non-renewable resources — is recycled or burned, and mostly ends up in dump sites. One million plastic bottles purchased every minute around the world. Jacob Duer, chief of the Chemicals and Health Branch with UN Environment Programme opened a session on plastics and the circular economy at the 2019 Helsinki Chemicals Forum on May 24 with these grim facts.

The session covered efforts to address the issue from industry, retailers, investors, civil society, what they are doing to promote action.

Ingeborg Mork Knutsen, senior advisor with Norway’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment spoke about marine litter and microplastics and described how her country is tackling the problem of marine litter and reducing single-use plastics. For example, Norway has had a recycling tax on plastic bottles for many years, and as a result has achieved a return rate of about 90% for all plastic bottles. Now the country is turning its attention to the challenge of marine litter and is in the process of developing an app for tracking and retrieving lost fishing gear which is receiving a lot of international attention.

She called for international cooperation in dealing with marine plastic litter and said secondary markets need to be found for recycled plastic material.

Mark Blainey, head of risk management, Unit I with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), discussed the EU’s Single Use Plastics Directive which was issued in March this year. He also outlined a restriction proposal for intentionally added microplastics — the small microbeads found in cosmetic products as well as in detergents, printing inks and paints, makeup, in agriculture for seed coatings and other products, and small rubber balls on sports fields.

The proposed restriction is currently going through the scientific group at ECHA which will issue an opinion next year. A definition has already been developed, based on definitions in REACH.

Lorraine Francourt, director, Chemicals Management Policy and Circular Economy, Dow Chemicals, told participants about the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. A CEO-led initiative to keep plastics out of the environment, the alliance is focussed on developing the actual infrastructure for recycling and waste management in developing countries.

Eva Karlsson, CEO, Houdini Sportwear, described how her company is working with suppliers to develop biodegradable polymers for the clothing lines it manufactures, and to eliminate microplastics, and plans to achieve circularity by 2022.

Jacob Huer summed up the session by pointing out that to make restrictions work, developing biodegradable polymers is the only feasible option. The EU has created a tiered structure within the microplastics restriction so if it is shown that the polymer truly is biodegradable, then the product will no longer be defined as a microplastic.

Reported by Leslie Burt, Chemical Matters

Chemicals in the European Union, beyond 2020

Bjorn Hansen HCF 2018 editedThe executive director of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), Bjorn Hansen, spoke at two key conferences in Helsinki this week and provided participants with an update on the agency’s activities and chemicals regulations. He was keynote speaker both at the ECHA Conference on May 22, and the Helsinki Chemicals Conference (HCF) the following day.

At this year’s ECHA Conference, subtitled Safer Chemicals, he outlined new tasks and priorities facing the organization. These tasks are the agency’s priorities from now until 2023, and include developing a portal for notifications of hazardous mixtures to national poison centres (CLP); a focus on occupations exposure limits (DELs) as well as persistent organic pollutants (POPs); developing a database to track chemicals of concern (waste framework directive) and the EU chemicals legislation FINDER; and the EU Nano Observatory website which collects existing information from databases, registries and studies and generates new data through additional studies and surveys on nanomaterials on the EU market.

At the HCF conference on May 23, Hansen provided an update on REACH/CLP regulations. He commented that the interface is running better and better, and the classification of pesticides, biocides and pthalates is going well. More harmonization with other legislation and sister agencies is a high priority.

The REACH regulations were implemented by the European Union in 2007, and govern the production and use of chemical substances in the EU, putting the burden of proof on companies that manufacture or use the substances. REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances.

Companies must register their substances and can work together with other companies who are registering the same substance. ECHA receives and evaluates individual registrations, and the EU member states evaluate selected substances to identify any concerns for human health or for the environment. Authorities and ECHA’s scientific committees then assess whether the risks of substances can be managed.

Authorities can ban hazardous substances if their risks are unmanageable. They can also decide to restrict a use or make it subject to a prior authorization.

To date, 14,000 companies have registered substances, while 94,000 registration dossiers have been opened with 22,000 substances registered. A total of 197 substances have been placed on the substances of very high concern (SVHC) list, 43 on the authorization list and 69 restrictions have been issued on substances or groups.

Reported by Leslie Burt, Chemical Matters

Partnership seeks leaner solutions for fuels and chemicals

Neste VTT storyFinnish companies Neste and VTT have signed cooperation agreements aimed at strengthening expertise in the bio and circular economies as well as developing cleaner fuel solutions. The agreements relate to two separate research projects in Finland — the first to a testing facility being built by Neste in Kilpilahti, Porvoo, Finland and the second to a catalytic processes project at VTT’s Bioruukki pilot centre in Espoo, Finland. The agreements will allow Neste and VTT to use these research infrastructures in their future projects.

“Neste and VTT have long been partners, and the agreements will enable a more extensive research collaboration”, said Peter Vanacker, president and CEO of Neste.

“This partnership is very important to us, and an excellent example of how we are looking for concrete solutions to climate change and resource sufficiency with our partners. The cooperation between Neste and VTT brings up new opportunities to make the best possible use of the research infrastructures,” said Antti Vasara, VTT’s president and CEO.

Reported by Leslie Burt,

ECHA conference brings together 250 stakeholders

ECHA photo.croppedAround 250 stakeholders including national authorities, industry associations, companies, NGOs and academics gathered at the headquarters of the European Chemicals Agency on May 22 for the 2019 ECHA Conference. The theme of the conference was chemical safety, and was divided into three areas – improving compliance of registration data, tackling substances of concern and improving safe use of chemicals.

Mike Rasenberg, head of computational assessment unit at ECHA discussed strategies for increasing efficiency in screening substances by strategic groupings. Ofelia Bercaru, head of hazard IV unit, ECHA, said that over the past year, EHCA staff have checked over 2700 dossiers and they have evaluated 25% of substances registered above 1000 tonnes. She noted that the reasons for non-compliance include the waiving of data requirements, adaptations not justified, insufficient documentation (for example, inadequate detail to support an independent assessment). Action has been taken to support compliance, such as providing evaluation reports that include advice. These evaluation decisions are available on ECHA website. The number of compliance checks will be increased by ECHA, and she pointed out that it is important for industry to expect the checks to increase.

In the next session, looking at the challenges in tackling substances of concern, ECHA’s Sandrine Lefevre-Brevart presented a case study on microplastics. She discussed the proposed restriction being developed for microplastics, which includes agreeing upon a harmonized definition of microplastics, regulating use and instructions for use. The restriction is still a proposal and public consultations are underway until September 20:

In summary, ECHA’s deputy executive director Jukka Malm, said ECHA is working to improve the consistency and quality of the work, still hampered by unreliable data and lack of data. Compliant data is the foundation of safe use, and will be a high priority for ECHA in the upcoming period.

Reported by Leslie Burt, Chemical Matters