Unveiled last year as part of the EU's wider European Green Deal, the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability aimed to phase out the most harmful chemicals on the market and trigger a wave of safe, sustainable chemical innovation and design.
For beauty and personal care, it had been touted a game-changer and significant challenge for the months and years ahead.
EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability an 'ambitious' vision
“We have included a large number of concrete actions to achieve a cleaner, toxic-free environment and to boost innovation,” said Kestutis Sadauskas, director for circular economy and green growth at the European Commission's Department of Environment (DG ENV).
“Like the Green Deal itself, it's an ambitious vision but its objectives are clear,” Sadauskas told attendees at this year's online Cosmetics Europe Annual Conference (CEAC 2021) during a dedicated session on the European Green Deal.
In Europe, he said chemicals represented the fourth-largest industry in the region and one that was therefore an important “building block” for future growth. But that growth had to be done responsibly, he said.
“There are areas where alarm bells are ringing. We need to act – it's urgent. It's now, rather than later,” Sadauskas said.
“...European citizens, including the most vulnerable, are still too exposed to harmful chemicals through consumer products in particular,” he said. “We want to see more sustainable use, with safer chemicals driving the digital green transition.”
Chemical phase-outs - endocrine disruptors, PFAs are priority areas
Endocrine disruptors, for example, had to be looked at closely, Sadauskas said, given the current “reproductive crisis in Europe”. Use of PFAs also needed to be addressed, having “contaminated entire regions”, he said.
“...Restriction of PFAs are really one of the big priorities. These are forever chemicals; highly persistent, really functional, quite useful for society ,but also a cause of enormous health and environmental damage around the world. In the future, they will only be allowed where use is really necessary.”
The roadmaps to achieving all this had already been outlined under REACH and CoP, published and now open for public consultation, Sadauskas said, with final approvals set for next year.
More broadly speaking, he said the European Commission was approaching the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability via three spheres: prevention, innovation and legal framework.
The legal framework focus involved simplifying and consolidating various legislations and decision-making processes, he said. The Commission, for example, would bring in a 'one substance, one assessment' policy for all chemical risk assessments and maintain a 'no data, no market' principle.
“In practice, we'll step up enforcement with better audits, targeted checks on products and chemicals, and especially focus on imported products,” Sadauskas said.
On the innovation side, he said the aim was the “boost development of new alternatives” that were safe and sustainable by design.
“Innovation is very key (…) Even the protection part that is set really relies on innovation because if you want to protect better, you need to protect better with different, more innovative substances, and different production processes and business models. Innovation is absolutely key here, without it, [change] is simply not going to happen.”
Research and development in new chemicals and manufacturing processes would also be key if the European cosmetic sector was to maintain its competitive edge, Sadauskas said. This innovation drive in cosmetics and the wider chemicals industry, therefore, would be backed by funding released under the EU's key funding programme for research and development Horizon and accompanied by an EU-wide support network, he said.
Funding for chemicals innovation to be released under Horizon
Asked by CosmeticsDesign-Europe how much funding would be released to support innovation under the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, and when, Sadauskas replied: “I don't have the cheque with me, but I can tell you that we are working with our colleagues who are responsible for the Horizon programme.”
And he said there were “sizeable amounts” of funding available under the programme that could be directly distributed according to projects in the pipeline. For this reason, he hoped the chemicals and cosmetics industry would take a “very active” approach in calling for funds so that the right money could be channeled in a timely and appropriate manner.
Marco Mensink, director-general of the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), remained more skeptical on the level of funding that would be channeled towards such innovation under Horizon.
“We need to come back with numbers (…) Brussels is a nest full of birds asking for their part of Horizon. There will be a huge pressure on the agriculture side; the climate side. What I hope is the Commission puts the money behind [chemicals innovation] – a billion behind it via Horizon,” Mensink said.
Beyond EU Horizon funding, Sadauskas said there were also other public budget lines that could be accessed to support and finance chemicals innovation moving forward, including cohesion funds and recovery money. There was also another very important channel: the private sector.
“We really want to encourage and trigger the investment of innovation, and investment of private money into this. Because public money cannot fuel all the needs. The funds are out there, and the more these funds are used by the operators for the purposes we've talked about, the better it will be for the funding itself, innovation and the sector.”