An article published on August 27, 2015 in the news blog Health & Environment (H&E) discusses the role of chemicals in the circular economy. In the concept of the circular economy, resources are conserved and increased via two circular material flow systems: 1) Flow of biological materials that integrate with ecosystems and circulate safely in the biosphere and 2) flow of technical materials that cannot integrate with ecosystems and circulate in a closed loop apart from the biosphere. Technical materials are needed for human living and include e.g. processed alloys and polymers. Regarding chemicals in the circular economy, a major concern is that hazardous chemicals get trapped in the technical material cycle. This way, recycling could “move them from a use whereby people are less exposed to one where they are more exposed.” An example of this is the detection of brominated flame retardants, used initially e.g. in the casing of electronic devices, in black plastic kitchen utensils (FPF reported). H&E suggests that circularity and 100% reuse need to be taken into account in the safety assessment of chemicals. Companies should anticipate the shift to a circular economy and substitute substances of very high concern (SVHCs) that are likely to be restricted in the future. In order to avoid introduction of inappropriate chemicals into applications such as children’s toys or food contact materials, access to information about chemical composition of products needs to be improved. Further, not everything should blindly be recycled and hazardous substances should be excluded from the circular economy as to not perpetually contaminate the technical material flow.
On August 19, 2015 the UK-based advocacy group for chemical safety CHEM Trust, addressed the issue of chemical safety in the circular economy in a briefing with policy recommendations to the “Public consultation on the circular economy” of the European Commission.
Health & Environment (August 27, 2015). “Chemicals in the circular economy.”
CHEM Trust (August 2015). “Circular economy and chemicals: Creating a clean and sustainable circle.” (pdf)
Michael Warhurst (August 19, 2015). “The Circular economy: To get it right we must address hazardous chemicals.” CHEM Trust
Food Packaging Forum (December 4, 2014). Plastic recycling.
Samsonek, J. & Puype, F. (2013). “Occurrence of brominated flame retardants in black thermocups and selected kitchen utensils purchased on the European market.” Food Additives & Contamination: Part A 30(11):1976-1986.