How can we reduce and track Substances of Very High Concern in the circular economy?

Malik Duhaut, Mara Fehling

Over the coming years, it is one of the Commission’s main goals to transition the EU, its consumers, manufacturing and products, to a circular economy. This goal has been laid out clearly in the New Circular Economy Action Plan.

When it comes to the safety of products and materials, there is still a lot to be done, before we can rely on safe material cycles to provide feedstock for all our products. Especially how Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) will fit into the picture is still in question.

The Commission will address this issue in the Chemicals strategy for sustainability, which will lay out the overall direction of the role of the chemicals sector in the transition to a circular economy. But action on this issue is already well under way, with ECHA’s SCIP database on SVHCs in products launching in full in January 2021.  This database will help ensure that information on SVHCs in products is available throughout the entire product lifecycle into the waste phase. This will allow consumers to gather more information on the chemicals contained in their products and create a resource for recyclers and manufacturers to ensure the safety of their products.

Beyond that, the Circular Economy Action Plan calls for methodologies to track the content of SVHCs in recycled materials and the articles made from them. These methodologies are also set to be put forward by the Commission in 2021.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has now published a report on this exact issue, making recommendations on how to go about phasing out SVHCs where possible, and how to deal with SVHCs that will have to remain a part of our supply and product chains. The RIVM highlights that more and better information must be made available on SVHCs in the supply chain, calls for more responsibility across the whole supply chain, and underlines that safe handling of SVHCs that remain in the supply chain must be ensured. The report makes short, medium and long term recommendations to help achieve this and facilitate the transition so a circular economy with safe material cycles.

We have summarised the RIVM’s report in a short video, to give an overview of the main recommendations.