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Industry Insight

Helsinki Chemicals Forum Zeros in on The Circular Economy

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Industry Insight

Helsinki Chemicals Forum Zeros in on The Circular Economy

Chemicals Management and Sustainable Chemistry Highlighted During Conference

The European Commission (EC) has been promoting a concept called the “circular economy”, which will be a focus at the upcoming Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF). A circular economy is an industrial economy that is producing no waste or pollution. It is a move away from the “take, make, dispose” manufacturing model, and replaces cradle-to-grave design with cradle-to-cradle, which is the driving philosophy behind the field of sustainability. This emphasis on sustainability is an intrinsic part of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulation.

According the Geert Dancet, ECHA’s Executive Director, “The idea of “circular economy” contains a novel approach to saving resources and protecting our environment in highly developed industrial economies which have for too long depended too much on consuming finite commodities. If, additionally, these moves are supported by convincing business cases for sound chemicals management, this appears to me like a good recipe for sustainable development and provides pro-active businesses a clear competitive advantage if they take the circular economy on board in their corporate strategies.”

The REACH regulation establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on chemical substance hazards and risks. It requires companies to register the substances they manufacture in or import into Europe above one tonne a year.. The goal is to gather information on chemicals within the European Union (EU) in order to manage their risks in a meaningful way, but also to promote the gradual substitution of the most toxic substances.

“REACH has been a trailblazer in implementing the EU regulatory regime to catch up with the knowledge and safety gaps on the high number of chemicals on the market,” Dancet explains. “[ECHA’s] daily practice in implementing REACH shows that many companies and downstream users are already benefitting from the demand for safer registered chemicals, and REACH provided a growing push for innovation and better knowledge of alternatives.”

REACH is not a voluntary standard; it places the burden of proof on industry to demonstrate that a substance is safe. Rather than acting as a watchdog and demonstrating that a substance is unsafe, ECHA is evaluating the chemical data that the manufacturer provides. As a result, there is much better knowledge of chemical substances and the most dangerous substances are being replaced with safer alternatives. “As a demonstration how the REACH data is being used by authorities, I can tell that we in the EU work at any given point in time on the safety of over 500 hazardous substances through the many evaluation and risk management processes that we manage,” Dancet said.

Throughout the evolution of the standard, ECHA has developed and released IT tools and guidance to make the registration process easier. Last year ECHA launched an improved version of their chemicals database that provides access to easy to understand summary information on chemical substances. This year ECHA plans to roll-out the production versions of IUCLID 6, REACH-IT 3 and CHESAR 3.

Interestingly, while several “green” chemicals have been registered under REACH, many substances that ECHA anticipated would be included in the original authorization list have not materialized. Instead, manufacturers have taken the path of innovation and substituted less toxic chemicals prior to registration, sometimes eliminating the need for registration as a result.

Panels Focus on Opportunities and Challenges

One of the leading international discussion forums for chemicals safety and sound chemicals management, HCF 2016 will be held from 26-27 May, 2016 at the Messukeskus Helsinki Convention Centre in Helsinki, Finland. The packed two-day event addresses opportunities and challenges for chemicals regulation, with panels covering the circular economy, perfluorinated chemicals, global data sharing, plant safety, and chemicals of high concern.

Speakers include top officials at ECHA and other international authorities and chemical industry organizations, such as the EU’s European Commission, CEFIC, OECD and Environment Canada as well as numerous other government agencies, NGOs, industry and academia from around the world.

While all the panels are new topics at HCF, the panel on global data sharing in particular addresses a topic that has become increasing challenging to manage: big data. Led by Adreas Herdina, ECHA’s Director of Cooperation, this panel will address how to better understand and use the huge amounts of data generated for international authorities such as REACH on the properties and effects of chemicals and chemical products. The panel will examine how the global exploitation of data on chemicals could improve general chemicals safety by reducing, for example, the number of and need for new heavy regulations in the developing economies.

Preceding the conference will be the eleventh annual Stakeholders' Day on 25 May 2016. This event offers participants the chance to hear and discuss the latest news and updates from ECHA, European industry associations, and NGOs. The annual event covers the REACH regulation; this year the meeting will address successful registration tips, ensuring dossier quality, and how registrations are used. Participants can also attend one-to-one sessions with ECHA staff about specific topics.

For more detail about HCF and the various panels, visit http://www.helsinkicf.eu .
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