The importance of hazardous substance tracking during the life cycle of circular products. Untracked legacy substances of concern as a showstopper for a circular economy

Main Presenter:    Marco Mense;Wouter van Kootwijk 

Co-Authors:                                                  

The importance of hazardous substance tracking during the life cycle of circular products.
Untracked legacy substances of concern as a showstopper for a circular economy.

The EU is doubling down on the transition towards a circular economy. With this increasing emphasis on secondary life cycles, it becomes paramount to properly account for them in Life cycle assessments. For instance, it can help determine if a newly introduced recycling system is living up to the expectations of reducing environmental impacts.
Or at least, this is true for the impact categories of climate change and resource depletion. Toxicity remains the odd one out in Life Cycle Assessment. Not only are toxicity parameters generally considered to be the least robust of the impact categories, the primary data collected and included in many LCA study are far from sufficient to make a justifiable statement with regard to toxicity.
Important to realise is that the toxicity (or hazard profile) of a material is determined at the 0.1% concentration level in a material or article. The presence of even a low amount of certain hazardous substances (much less then usually considered in LCA) may trigger risks for human health or the environment..
The relevance of this becomes apparent in circular systems. One of the current issues around hazardous substances is that there are many (restricted) chemicals are present in our products. During recycling processes, these substances often remain unidentified and are re-introduced on the market in various recycled products.
Unfortunately, several incidents occurred already. Examples include the presence of Substances of very High concern (SVHC) in pizza boxes made from recycled cardboard and the presence of hazardous flame retardants, which were once used in electronics, found to be re-introduced in plastic toys for children.
If confidence in the safety of recycled materials is removed, it becomes likely that the progress towards a circular economy will be seriously hampered due to a decline in trust in recycled products
Given the relevance for the circular economy, we will discuss chemical safety from the life cycle management perspective in this session showing:
• why hazardous substance tracking is a vital part of a functioning circular economy
• examples of obstacles in life cycle management to get the necessary data
• how regulatory programs that adopt a life cycle approach to chemical safety could advance toxicity evaluation in LCA

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