In an article published on January 24, 2020, the non-governmental organization (NGO) the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) informed that the European Union has formally withdrawn an exemption it had allowing for the recycling of products containing brominated flame retardants. In 2018, a group of NGOs including HEAL released a study finding polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in plastic products for children (FPF reported) and demanding that the EU set strict limits for PBDEs and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in recycled plastics. The two compounds tetrabromodiphenyl ether (tetraBDE; CAS 5436-43-1) and pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE; CAS 60348-60-9) have both been listed for elimination in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. However, the EU had registered for exemptions to the phase-out requirements set under the convention, specifically for recycling of articles containing the two chemicals. Now that these have officially been withdrawn, recycling of materials containing PBDEs is no longer permitted. Five other countries still have registered exemptions allowing for continued use of the substances, including Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey.

“Recycling toxic chemicals into new products undermines the entire concept of a truly circular economy, for which the European Commission is expected to propose an action plan in Spring,” said Genon Jensen, Executive Director of HEAL. “The removal of the PBDE recycling exemption is a step in the right direction to create non-toxic material cycles. It illustrates that delivering on the Green Deal will require close interlinkage between addressing toxic chemicals and circularity to deliver significant benefits for health.”

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HEAL (January 24, 2020). “Environmental health groups celebrate end to EU allowance for banned flame retardant chemicals to enter recycling streams and new products.”

Leigh Stringer (January 27, 2020). “EU withdraws flame retardants exemptions under UN POPs treaty.” Chemical Watch