Roadmap Points Europe Toward Safer, Sustainable Chemicals
Europe's chief policy-making body Wednesday called for a safer, more sustainable chemicals market, plotting a zero-tolerance approach that nearly eliminates hormone mimicking compounds.
The strategy, approved by the European Commission, represents some of the most ambitious policy recommendations on the planet and draws a stark contrast with the United States, where endocrine-disrupting compounds—such as bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, certain flame retardants and pesticides—remain largely unregulated and ubiquitous in products and packaging.
Environmental health advocates hailed the effort as "the most transformative chemical policy initiative" in 20 years and a "once-in-a-decade opportunity to rethink Europe's approach to chemicals management."
"Every day, our exposure to cocktails of harmful chemicals is translating in real-life health conditions and diseases for current and future generations," said Natacha Cingotti, senior policy officer for health and chemicals at the Brussels-based Health and Environment Alliance.
"While we welcome this significant step forward, the reality leaves no room for self-complacency and it is urgent the Commission gets to work to implement the promises made to effectively protect people from harm and support safe innovation for non-toxic material cycles."
Five Main Thrusts
The new European plan, dubbed the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, is part of the broader Europe Green Deal, a sweeping proposal for the European Union to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, eliminate pollution, and promote a sustainable economy.
The strategy released Wednesday has five main thrusts:
- Tighter scrutiny of hormone-mimicking compounds, along with an early warning system for chemical risks before such compounds hit the market.
- A "one substance, one assessment" approach to increase chemical testing transparency.
- Incentives for green chemistry and non-toxic materials development.
- Information and tools for citizens to understand chemical risks.
- Pressure on international markets to improve chemical safety globally.
At its core, the strategy makes use of the precautionary principle—forcing companies or manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe before they go to market, and making them pay when there is pollution.
Concern From Business
While environmental and health advocates lauded the move, business interests cautioned it will stifle commerce and innovation.
"Production cycles and supply chains are complex ... (and) not always well understood by decision makers," wrote EuroCommerce, representing the continents' retail and wholesale business sectors, in a position paper as the policy was being crafted this summer. "We ask the Commission to keep a close eye on the impact of individual initiatives, and its cumulative effects on the retail and wholesale sector and how it affects their economic viability."
Contrast With United States
The Commission's plan stands in sharp contrast to the United States. Despite decades of warnings from academic scientists, U.S. regulators have largely ignored independent, non-industry science about the dangers of chemicals that impact our hormones, often at very low doses.
Endocrine-disrupting compounds are a particular concern, based on science from research labs worldwide. The compounds—added to a broad range of products such as plastics, toys, cosmetics, food packaging—have been linked to myriad health problems, including birth defects, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, as well as impacts to the brain and reproductive and immune systems.
The highest profile—and highest dollar— effort by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get on the same page of academic scientists and Europe on endocrine disruptor science has only deepened divides. An EHN investigation of the FDA's effort on just one chemical, BPA, found the agency stacked the deck against findings from independent scientists studying BPA. It also found that many chemicals used to replace BPA in "BPA-free" products have the same adverse health impacts as the original chemical.
Separate Focus on PFAS
Also released Wednesday was an EU strategy that specifically takes aim at PFAS, compounds so persistent they're called "forever chemicals." PFAS, used in products including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and some clothing, have been found in the water of roughly 2,230 U.S. communities in 49 states, affecting more than 100 million people.
The new European strategy would only allow for PFAS use when the chemicals are "essential for society." In addition, it will fund research for safe alternatives and for monitoring and cleanup.
Toward 'Zero Pollution'
The framework stems from political guidelines laid out at the end of 2019 by European Union President Ursula von der Leyen that pointed Europe toward "zero pollution."
"I will put forward a cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens' health from environmental degradation and pollution, addressing air and water quality, hazardous chemicals, industrial emissions, pesticides and endocrine disruptors," President von der Leyen wrote in the report.
The Commission plans to release a Zero Action Pollution Action Plan on air, water and soil next year to complement the chemicals strategy.
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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