The Future of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability

The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) was launched as part of the Green Deal with great ambition, creating waves that were felt in remote corners of our planet. It introduced concepts such as essential use, safe and sustainable chemicals by design (SSBD), and the mixture assessment factor. It proposed to extend the use of generic risk assessment (GRA) and grouping of chemicals, and most importantly, it included a revision of the Regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals (REACH), Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) and actions on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Where do we stand now?

CLP has been revised, and 4 new hazard classes have been added to it separately through a delegated act. REACH has not been revised, safe and sustainable by design (SSbD), Mixture Assessment Factor (MAF), and Generic Risk Approach (GRA) extension are still in the makings, and communication on essential use has been published, but it is still far from being implementable. Despite slow progress, one of the more ambitious actions - a universal PFAS restriction proposal - is out, though the Commission has on several occasions reminded that it is a proposal by four Member States and Norway and not by the Commission.

The REACH authorization process is more or less broken, possibly due to chromium trioxide applications, and the universal PFAS restriction might do the same for REACH restrictions. While the PFAS restriction has proven to be a challenge to the system, it has also shown what a challenge it is to obtain information on chemical substances in different uses. It is safe to say that it was not the substances that broke the system but rather REACH itself, which was not designed to deal with complicated cases. More work is needed to improve substitution and a revision or targeted amendments of REACH is a must if the regulation is to remain fit-for-purpose.

What will happen next?

The main objectives of the CSS consisted, among other things, of phasing out substances of concern from products, fostering innovation, and improving information on chemicals. The Member States will discuss CSS during the October 14 Environment Council, and it will be interesting to hear what comes out of that. Maybe they will finally realize that it might have been good to start by defining substances of concern first so that everyone understands what should be phased out. Will they understand that the CSS was too ambitious and consisted of too many actions, which created confusion, costs, and resulted in a lack of progress to the detriment of health and the environment? Sometimes less is more.

Chemicals and chemistry are vital for our society, and the risks need to be well managed while ensuring a viable future. That future depends on how the political and human chemistry will play out in the coming days and weeks. Will Ursula von der Leyen get 361 votes in the European Parliament, and if so, what are the conditions attached? More focus on competitiveness versus less Green Deal? Support from the three main groups, The European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats, and Renew will not be enough even if their collective votes exceed the threshold, as some of their MEPs will vote differently or abstain. Votes from the other more obvious groups, such as the Greens, are therefore needed, and to get those, some promises on continued focus on the Green Deal and the CSS will be made. We will know more on this in July after the votes have been cast and finally when the programme of the next Commission is published.

Reach out to us to learn more about the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and what it could mean for your business. We can help you navigate this complex political landscape.

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