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Toxic Toys on the Market as a Result of European Legislative Inconsistencies

The study has unveiled and called for an end to inconsistencies and mismatches in legislation on chemicals, products, and waste in the European Union and, even further afield, in Central and Eastern European markets. It proposes a seven-step policy action plan that ought to be executed in order to properly implement the Stockholm Convention to protect the health and the environment by setting strict limits on waste containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Between April and June 2018, 430 plastic items such as toys, hair accessories, kitchen utensils and other consumer products were purchased in stores and markets in a number of EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden) and surrounding Central and Eastern European countries (Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, and Serbia). Of all the items screened, 109 samples (25%) were found to have an elevated level of bromine and antimony indicating recycled plastic, most likely originating from electronic and electrical waste.

Hong Kong toy manufacturers might like to know that the highest measured concentrations of PBDEs were found in children’s toys, followed by hair accessories and kitchen utensils. In fact, a toy guitar from Portugal had the highest concentration of PBDEs (3,318 parts per million (ppm) or 0.3% of product weight). According to the report, contamination of children’s toys is especially problematic since children tend to put things in their mouths. Toys made from plastic, such as puzzles and Rubik’s cubes, are supposed to develop children’s motor skills and intellectual capacity; instead, it is claimed, these toys expose children to toxic chemicals that would have the opposite effect.

As stated in the report, legislative loopholes have been created as a result of recycling targets that disregard the impact of recycling toxic chemicals on human health and the environment. Waste from electronic and electrical goods contain bromine compounds, used as flame retardants. The compounds include polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, such as OctaBDE and DecaBDE. These two substances were of primary interest in the study because, although they are highly hazardous to health and the environment, they are nonetheless permitted in consumer goods made from recycled waste materials in the EU.

The report was published to coincide with the European Parliament’s vote on persistent organic pollutant exemptions which have come under scrutiny. The authors of the report outlined their concerns in a letter to the European Parliament’s Environment (ENVI) committee, urging Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote against any exemptions for recycled plastics.

MEPs have been urged to protect children’s health and the environment by closing the EU recycling loophole and to keep hazardous waste out of recycled plastics by refusing exemptions for PBDEs in recycling (for Penta-, Hexa-, Hepta- and OctaBDE). Furthermore, and above all, a call is made to implement a most stringent limit for DecaBDE (10 ppm, or 0.001%) for products made of recycled plastics, so as to maintain identical safety standards for products made from virgin and from recycled plastics.

Furthermore, advocates warn that the loophole in the current legislation is not only bad for European consumers, it is equally bad for the developing world, given that European entities allegedly send 15 to 50% of their electrical and electronic waste either illegally or as used electronics, with hazardous levels of toxic chemicals, to less developed countries in Asia and Africa, where they continue to contaminate in the form of recycled plastics.

Although currently, Hong Kong toy manufacturers remain unaffected, it nonetheless remains to be seen whether the evidence adduced by the NGOs will influence the European Parliament and the EU’s lawmakers to take a more restrictive approach on recycled plastics that may be contaminated. This, in turn, would eventually have a more palpable impact on toy manufacturers.

In any event, even in case of inaction, point seven of the action plan contained in the study calls on the EU to deliver on its promises under the Seventh Environment Action Programme and to publish a strategy for moving towards a non-toxic environment, which may bring about further changes in this field in the future.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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