EU bans flame retardant chemicals to enter recycling streams and new products

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Last year, Arnika, IPEN, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) along with other public interest groups revealed widespread toxic recycling across Europe. Our research showed that alarming levels of banned flame retardants and related chemicals originating largely from discarded electronics equipment, were contaminating the recycling stream and new consumer goods made from recycled plastics. These included children’s toys, kitchen utensils, and other consumer products that were made of recycled plastic. The high visibility, rigorous, multi-country research made the recycling exemption indefensible.

Environmental health advocates therefore applaud the EU’s decision to put an end to the PBDE recycling exemption and encourage the six remaining countries with such exemptions to follow suit.

PBDE flame retardant chemicals, known to disrupt thyroid function and cause neurological and attention deficits in children, were banned globally via the Stockholm Convention a decade ago. However, the class of chemicals continues to contaminate consumer goods made from recycled plastics because the EU, along with Brazil, Canada, Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey, took advantage of a loophole in the Stockholm Convention that allowed the banned chemicals in recycling and requested an exemption for prolonged use. The EU recently submitted a letter withdrawing its exemption. The decision by the EU to keep POPs flame retardants out of recycling will also reduce the prevalence of dioxins in products made from recycled materials.

“In closing this dangerous loophole, the EU has taken an important step for public health,” said Jitka Strakova, Arnika expert on toxic chemicals and Coordinator of IPEN’s Dioxin, PCBs and Waste Working Group.  “Governments that claim to protect children and families from toxic banned chemicals cannot condone policies that allows hazardous substances in toys. That is what the recycling exemption does. The EU’s positive decision to withdraw the recycling exemption for PBDEs should serve as a global policy lesson and catalyze policy to put an end to POPs in recycling and waste.”



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