The EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment (CSS) announces the “new long term vision for the EU’s chemical policy’” intended to achieve a toxic-free environment through the “production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals”. In line with the objectives of the EU Green Deal, this ambitious political document is expected to deeply reshape the current EU chemicals regulatory framework for the next decade.

The Commission published the CSS in October 2020. It lays out more than 50 wide-ranging actions that will have a direct impact on the EU chemicals regulatory framework, listed for completion between 2020 and 2024. It is accompanied by a detailed Action Plan listing the key areas of action and the expected legislative initiatives and providing an indicative timing accordingly. We detailed some of the main initiatives regarding REACH and the CLP in a previous blog post, following the European Commission’s roadmap on the targeted revisions to REACH and CLP, which can be accessed here.

Continue reading for more details and analysis regarding the CSS and the future of sustainability in the EU chemicals industry.

The CSS refers to several new concepts that imply fundamental changes in the basic REACH and CLP principles and paradigms as we know them today. By way of example, the CSS announces (i) the development of ‘safe and sustainable-by-design’ criteria for chemicals, including specific performance indicators, (ii) the implementation of safe products and non-toxic material cycles, including the regulation of ‘substances of concern’, (iii) the adoption of criteria for the ‘essential use’ of chemicals, where the ‘most hazardous chemicals’ will be only permitted if use is ‘essential’ and when no acceptable alternatives are available, etc.

In 2006 and 2008, REACH and the CLP Regulation introduced important new principles, according to which the market access for chemicals as such, in mixtures or in products, was conditioned on the demonstration of a ‘safe use’. Stated otherwise, the industry became responsible for establishing that the chemicals it uses do not endanger the human health and the environment in an unacceptable way. Today, the Commission is announcing an additional step further. Safety seems no longer sufficient. Chemicals should, in the future, also be ‘essential’ and products should be used in a ‘sustainable way’. This shift will have overarching legal and practical consequences in the foreseeable future.

The CSS’s new concepts call for the elaboration of harmonized, clear and precise definitions and, where adequate, criteria or principles. This was explicitly recognized by the EU Council in March 2021, which endorsed the CSS in a document entitled Sustainable Chemicals Strategy of the Union: Time to Deliver. Furthermore, the Commission established a high-level roundtable on the implementation of the CSS, which first met on May 5, 2021, which should contribute to the discussions and the developments of such definitions.

Today, at this early stage of the announced political shift, stakeholders should seize all available opportunities to provide their input and seek to ensure that acceptable and practicable definitions are achieved. The authors of this blog will seek to clarify the scope and implications of the new concepts in series of publications that will appear in this blog, starting with the ‘safe and sustainable-by-design’ criteria for chemicals.