11 Dec 2015
New Footwear and Other Consumer Goods should not be Made from Old Plastics Containing DEHP, States European Parliament
Hong Kong traders may be interested in a non-binding resolution adopted by the European Parliament on 25 November 2015, concerning a hazardous substance widely used in products of plastic. The text highlights that the European Commission should refrain from authorising the recycling of plastics containing the banned softener Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) to be transformed into PVC items such as footwear and floor coverings, as the chemical poses reproductive risks to workers.
The resolution, which is a “non-legislative” instrument, was voted through by the full European Parliament in Strasbourg. The EU Council of Ministers still has to vote on the proposal and approve or oppose the authorisation by a qualified majority vote. In case of no qualified majority, the final decision will fall within the responsibility of the European Commission.
In the resolution, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) state that it is not acceptable to tolerate a potentially high incidence of male infertility in order to allow soft PVC recyclers and downstream users to save costs in the production of low-value articles, in order to compete with low-quality imports.
The resolution states that the application of DEHP concerns a wide range of uses. DEHP in PVC is widely used in everyday consumer products such as footwear, textiles, furniture and building material; it is not chemically bound to the plastic and thus easily leaches out to the environment.
DEHP is already banned from the market and use within the EU under the REACH Regulation because of its classification as a category 1B substance that is toxic to reproduction. In fact, DEHP was among the first six compounds due to be phased out under the REACH Regulation. However, the Commission has proposed in a draft decision, yet to be approved by EU Member States, the authorisation to recycle discarded plastics which contain DEHP into new PVC products.
DEHP is a substance known to negatively affect the endocrine system in mammals by, among others, reducing foetal testosterone. It may also affect the rate at which a mammal develops along with its reproductive capacity. The resolution quotes scientific evidence according to which exposure during sensitive time-windows of development may cause irreversible adverse effects related to reproduction, regarded as particularly serious in relation to human health and wildlife species. It was inserted into Annex XIV of the REACH regulation for being toxic to reproduction. Once phased out, the Annex XIV substances can no longer be used in the EU, unless an express authorisation has been received.
According to the European Parliament’s resolution, on 21 October 2015 the Commission had submitted a draft implementing act to identify DEHP as a substance having endocrine disrupting properties whose effects on human health give rise to a significant level of concern.
The European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA’s) Member State Committee unanimously recognised that there is scientific evidence of the endocrine disrupting nature of DEHP for the environment. Hong Kong traders familiar with DEHP’s properties will know that it has been the main “general purpose” phthalate in use over the last 50 years. The use of DEHP has already been restricted by the EU in toys and childcare articles and in cosmetics, however.
One concern for the MEPs is that the applicants did not demonstrate that the risks to workers’ health were properly checked, and raised the serious nature of the adverse effects that could be caused by DEHP. Importantly, they also highlighted the fact that the applicants did not demonstrate that the socio-economic benefits arising from the use of the substance would outweigh the risks. The lack of any health impact assessment identifying the risk to workers’ health was also highlighted.
The resolution also mentions that the ECHA Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC), a scientific committee whose task is to assess socio-economic factors and the availability and technical feasibility of alternatives associated with uses of the substance as described in its application, could not conclude quantitatively on the proportionality of the continued use. This is because information on the remaining risks to workers’ health could not be quantified.
One of the arguments given by the SEAC in favour of granting authorisation was that there would be a political and societal incentive to promote recycling as a sustainable way to handle natural resources. The parliamentary resolution considered this a simplistic argument disregarding the EU’s waste management hierarchy, according to which prevention of waste takes priority over recycling. It also apparently failed to recognise explicit provisions in the EU’s Seventh Environment Action Programme which calls for the development of non-toxic material cycles so that recycled waste could be used as a major, reliable source of raw material for the Union.
Please click on the following link for the European Parliament Resolution.