“All parties in the product chain must ensure that materials and products can be reused safely.”
A Dutch research institute has published guidance for the circular economy supply chain on the use of substances of very high concern (SVHC) within recycled products.
In general terms, SVHCs are substances that have hazards with serious consequences, e.g., they can cause cancer, or they have other hazardous properties and/or remain in the environment for a long time with their amounts in animals gradually building up. In Europe, these substances are monitored under the European Union’s REACH regulation.
In its document entitled ‘dealing with substances of very high concern in a circular economy’, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) said: “As long as SVHCs are used in products and materials, these substances can come into circulation again in a circular economy. This allows employees, consumers and the environment to be inadvertently exposed to these substances, especially when the new application is different from the original one.”
However, RIVM (@rivm) said it believed that the transition to a circular economy provides opportunities to deal with substances of very high concern safely, and to monitor their use, but acknowledged that it would not be easy.
RIVM has investigated what is needed to achieve this transition safely and has identified three challenges. First, it is essential to share information about the substances used, including substances or high concern, throughout the product chain, RIVM stated. Second, all parties in the product chain must ensure that materials and products can be reused safely. Producers should think about this at the design stage of their products, it maintained. Users, (waste) processors and governments should also contribute. Finally, it’s important that everyone involved deals responsibly with the materials and products that contain substances or high concern for which there is no alternative, RIWM said.
Based on the three challenges, RIVM makes recommendations as to which actions are possible in the short and longer term. In the short term, the research institute emphasises the importance of sharpening the focus of products and materials for which safe circular product chains must be realised. In addition, a policy vision and with intermediate goals should be worked out.
The recommendations must be further elaborated in the coming years and adapted to the rapidly changing demand for substances due to technological developments, the research institute said. RIVM also offers opportunities to monitor responsible reuse of SVHC during the transition to a circular economy.
RIVM said that it is hoped that its guidance will help the sustainability debate between governments, companies, NGOs and research centres.