By: Alan Osborn
December 10, 2012
BRUSSELS (Dec. 10, 11:15 a.m. ET) — There is mounting criticism of the European Union’s chemicals registration policy Reach ahead of the May 31 deadline to register with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) all phase-in substances made or imported in the EU in quantities of 100 metric tons per year or more.
Despite more than five years of fine tuning since phase one of Reach came into force, the policy remains a source of discontent throughout the plastics supply chain.
Sandra Bohnert, communications manager at PlasticsEurope, the Brussels-based body representing European resin producers, puts it this way: “Clearly, Reach does not give companies any tool to innovate. Innovation in plastics is linked to new catalysts, new or improved production processes and development of new product formulations or recipes — all aspects where Reach cannot bring any positive contribution. On the contrary, the bureaucracy generated can sometimes be felt as a brake on innovation rather than an incentive to develop creativity.”
A good example of this, says Bohnert, are “the very rigid rules governing the registration of monomers, especially for the imported plastics, where the level of detail required by ECHA is amazing, enormous, yet these monomers are no longer present in the plastics put on the EU market.”
Bohnert said the registration procedure should “not invent a new burden or complicated registration dossiers for plastics when, in the rest of the world, simple rules can assess their harmlessness.”
A European Commission report on chemical industry innovation and Reach is very revealing, according to Giorgio Squinzi, president of the Brussels-based European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic).
“Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated that Reach could shift away resources from innovation,” he said at Cefic’s General Assembly in London before he handed the Cefic presidency to Kurt Bock, chairman of BASF SE.
“The Commission’s study also indicates that Reach has cost over 2 billion euros ($2.58 billion) to date. This is the initial cost range for Reach, yet we have only passed through the first registration deadline. This points to two things: one, the costs are high; two, SMEs who enter Reach must find ways to eliminate all unnecessary costs.”
The Commission reported that 43 percent of those surveyed said Reach had had a negative effect on innovation — with 13 percent seeing it as “positive” — but the Commission argued that these were “short-term” effects that would be offset in the longer-term as research and development programs were reoriented.
Squinzi said Cefic wants to make Reach work but foresees that “phases two and three will be especially difficult for small and medium-sized companies, and we have to make it work for them too.”
The European Plastics Converters Association (EuPC) in Brussels represents 55,000 companies in processing, compound and masterbatch formulation and recycling. Walter Claes, the trade association’s director of health, safety and the environment warned that “particular attention” needs to be paid to ongoing restrictions and authorization processes.
“Both risk endangering the future of plastics recycling in Europe by not taking into account the particular situation of recycling,” he said.
All acts of recovery are considered to be “manufacturing” under Reach, so the restriction and authorization rules would apply to recycled substances and mixtures, Claes said.
If Europe is to become a recycling society, then special provisions will have to be made for legacy substances which will be present in waste for years to come, he said.
Claes nevertheless agreed that within the Reach program “several key issues have been addressed quickly and satisfactorily solved.” These include use descriptors and generic exposure scenarios provided by manufacturers for registration, and by formulators for data production. Also in this category is the safety data sheet (SDS) web portal where recyclers can pick up tailor-made generic SDSs, he said.
In the United Kingdom, Reach has had a “varied and complex impact on the plastics industry,” said Philip Law, public and industrial affairs director of the British Plastics Federation in London.
“It is probably most burdensome on manufacturers of materials and additives and some of their importers as they have to register chemicals in the first place,” he noted. “Processors such as molders and packaging manufacturers will face additional bureaucracy if they have notification obligations. Communication throughout the supply chain is imperative if Reach is to work and this will cause additional effort for all.”