The European Parliament on Dec. 13 approved tough new regulations for the chemical industry, but the exact implications for plastics companies still are uncertain.
Implementation of the so-called REACH law, which stands for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, will begin June 1. The law is a comprehensive reform of all aspects of the European chemical sector, and it includes chemicals imported into Europe.
Approval came after more than three years of negotiation and debate. Described in the Parliament as ``one of the most complex texts in the history of the [European Union],'' REACH aims to protect human health and the environment while keeping European firms competitive and encouraging innovation, according to the European Commission.
The law replaces 40 existing pieces of legislation. During the next 11 years, more than 30,000 chemicals will be registered under the law.
Chemicals will be prioritized for regulation based on the risk they present and the quantity produced.
Pressure will be on industry to provide data on whether each substance is hazardous, and to identify measures to manage the risks. Under REACH, authorization will be required for the use of around 3,000 chemicals considered more dangerous, for a limited period. The law sets up a new Helsinki, Finland-based body, the European Chemicals Agency, responsible for registering and authorizing chemicals in the region.
In the case of hazardous chemicals, producers will be obliged to submit a substitution plan to replace the substances with safer alternatives. Where no alternative exists, manufacturers will have to present a research plan with the aim of finding a suitable alternative. Users of chemicals in Europe are advised they should ``communicate proactively'' with their chemical suppliers to ensure their uses are covered by registration dossiers that manufacturers or importers must submit.
One area of concern in the European plastics industry is about an apparent conflict between REACH and the European Union's call for increased recovery and recycling of plastic waste. REACH appears to expect mechanical recyclers to prove precisely what chemical substances were used in recyclate produced from post-consumer plastics waste.
``The situation is still unclear, in particular regarding the future use of plastics recyclates in our industry, and a lot of work needs to be done now with the [EC] in drafting REACH implementation guidelines,'' said Alexandre Dangis, managing director of European Plastics Converters, a Brussels, Belgium-based trade group that represents Europe's plastics processors.