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Controversial Plan to Register Polymers under REACH Being Considered

As part of a planned review of the EU chemicals regime for 2017, the European Commission may decide to propose the registration of polymers under the REACH Regulation. Hong Kong traders will be unsurprised to know that there is growing industry opposition to the plan, which came to light this summer. Given the existing economic burdens arising under the ubiquitous REACH chemicals body of law, hostility towards any further amendment to the law, which would increase its coverage and costs, is certainly expected.

Hong Kong traders with interests in the chemical and related industries should be informed that the Commission’s review is expected to have an “emphasis on potential for burden reduction and simplification”. It is possible that the review could lead to amendments to the REACH Regulation which is now a decade old. It is likely that the review will also tackle whether REACH is the right instrument for relatively new issues such as nanomaterials; the cumulative effects of chemicals (their so-called “cocktail effect”); and the burning issue of endocrine disruptors. The assessment by the Commission is to focus on the period 2010 to 2016.

Furthermore, it is expected that the European Commission will evaluate whether there is a need to require that certain types of polymers are registered. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recommended that the registration obligation should be considered. ECHA has stated that polymer substances “will play an important role in realising the objectives of a circular economy”.

The chemicals and plastics industries are not enthusiastic about the prospect of having to register certain polymers. The EU’s leading chemicals association CEFIC has claimed that registration is unnecessary as monomers from which polymers are made are already subject to a registration provision, and the resulting polymers are – it is thought – relatively inert. Currently, the polymers themselves do not have to be registered under REACH.

According to CEFIC’s director general Marco Mensink, “requiring registration of all the possible polymers would add another level of regulatory cost without adding anything to the level of regulatory protection”.

Another important matter has also arisen, which concerns existing registrations that have been made under REACH by importers and manufacturers. Hong Kong traders should take note that ECHA, in its report of 25 May 2016, has requested the Commission to clarify the obligations, belonging to companies manufacturing or importing chemicals, to update their registration dossiers on their substances’ properties, use and hazards. This is the second report that ECHA has prepared on the functioning of the REACH and CLP (classification, labelling and packaging) Regulations.

According to ECHA “an implementing regulation could be considered to ensure mandatory reporting of use and exposure information on a regular basis. In this context, clarification of the criteria triggering an update, including a binding timeframe for regular updates, should be discussed”. The matter has arisen in part due to the fact that several companies are apparently failing to update their registration dossiers, a requirement under the REACH law.

Mr Geert Dancet, ECHA’s executive director, clarified that there is no urgency in revising REACH, but admitted that “improvements should be made”. Overall, Mr Dancet states that the REACH and CLP Regulations are “unequivocally leading to a safer Europe”.

On yet another matter of considerable importance, Hong Kong traders of articles (including toys, footwear, clothing and electronics) may be interested to learn that ECHA has cautioned that REACH’s aim of providing basic information to consumers about Substances Of Very High Concern (SVHCs) in articles is failing. According to the regulatory agency overseeing the operation of REACH, there is limited information about the presence of SVHCs in products, particularly in relation to those imported into the EU.

In accordance with Article 33 of the REACH Regulation, suppliers of articles containing SVHCs in a concentration above 0.1% must provide their recipients, including industrial users and distributors, with enough information to ensure the safe use of the article. As a minimum, manufacturers and suppliers have to communicate the name of the substance to their recipients. 

Similarly, companies that supply goods are responsible for responding to consumer requests for information as to whether SVHCs are present in their products, but very few companies have thus far complied with this requirement. All responses should be provided within 45 days and without charge.

Given the lack of compliance, more, it is felt, needs to be done by the EU Member States’ competent authorities to ensure consumer awareness of SVHCs in products, and the provision of any relevant information by suppliers.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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