We are facing a chemicals crisis that can have very serious consequences for human health and the environment. The biggest sources of the spread of harmful chemicals are production and consumption. This is also where we need to find the solution.
Consumption of chemicals is increasing
From 2000 to 2017, the annual global production of chemicals increased from 1.2 to 2.3 billion tonnes. This is an increase of more than 90 %.
The threatening chemicals crisis is primarily due to explosive growth in the consumption of chemicals. From 2000 to 2017, production increased from 1.2 to 2.3 billion tonnes of chemicals per year worldwide. This is shown by figures from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Science has difficulty keeping up with development in the field of chemicals. This means that out of the 100,000 chemicals used in the European market, we currently only have enough knowledge about 500 of them. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and even though a lot of research is being done in this area, we still lack sufficient knowledge about the other chemicals in the market.
The Nordic Swan Ecolabel’s approach to chemicals
The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is one of the world’s best tools for limiting harmful chemicals. This applies to environmentally hazardous chemicals, such as substances that are toxic for aquatic organisms or that are less degradable in nature, and chemicals that are harmful to human health.
The overall approach of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel is to exclude substances on the basis of their properties. This means, for example, substances that are environmentally hazardous, carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction. This approach is far more effective than excluding individual substances by name.
For example, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel prohibits the addition of all organic fluorescent substances in all product groups where it is conceivable that they may be used - and thereby excludes the more than 4,000 chemicals in this group. This gives peace of mind to the companies that manufacture products, as well as to the consumers and buyers who ultimately use them.
The Nordic Swan Ecolabel adheres to the precautionary principle
The Nordic Swan Ecolabel generally takes a cautious approach to chemicals. The precautionary principle means that the Nordic Swan Ecolabel prohibits a substance if independent experts assess it to be problematic. In this way, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel reacts faster than legislation and imposes requirements on chemicals if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that they have harmful effects on the environment and/or human beings.
Stringent chemical requirements promote the circular economy
The stringent chemical requirements are also one of the reasons why the Nordic Swan Ecolabel is a powerful tool for promoting a circular economy. Indeed, one of the main barriers to the circular economy is the risk of residues and contamination by harmful chemicals from the materials' previous life cycle.
The Nordic Swan Ecolabel sets requirements for the chemicals used in both materials and finished products. This entails checking both the documentation for the raw materials used in a product and the documentation from subcontractors about the constituent substances used in the raw materials. This promotes opportunities for reuse and recycling at later stages of the life cycle. The stringent chemical requirements also reduce the environmental impact during production and our level of exposure to chemicals when we use the products.