From March 2021 onward, halogenated flame retardants in plastic casing and stands of electronic displays will be banned from the EU market.
This is a major progress in view of the hazardousness of these substances, presenting danger during use stage and hampering cost effective recycling. This provision is part of an Ecodesign measure voted unanimously in December 2018. While not easy to document expected health and potential recycling jobs benefits of this ban, the positive impacts in terms of plastic recycling have been assessed to 84kT CO2 eq/year (EC official assessment).
This sets an interesting precedent, also showing that it is feasible to address hazardous chemicals through ecodesign. In fact, individual product regulation can complement transversal chemicals regulations such as REACH or RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances for electric and electronic products) to detoxify our economy and unleash circular economy potentials.
So far, chemicals policies have evolved on a substance-by-substance basis. Moreover, they need to ensure restrictions can be applied across a wide range of product categories, and that alternatives exist for each of the latter. In contrast, individual regulations such as ecodesign measurse target a restricted product category and can encompass a whole group of hazardous substances. While a group approach prevents a hazardous substance from being replaced by a similarly dangerous one, a product category approach is also highly relevant as it focuses the ban where applicable.
We can only hope that the ban on halogenated flame retardants will now be replicated for other relevant product categories containing plastics, such as computers and electronics, vacuum cleaners and other small appliances. This will help further deliver on recycling targets, and bring about obvious health benefits.