Coping with substances of concern in a circular economy

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Abstract - By 2050 the Dutch Government hopes to have a completely circular economy. An economy in which resources are continuously reused and with as little waste as possible. In a safe circular economy, risks to humans and the environment from hazardous substances in (recycled) materials are negligible. Substances of high concern, like those causing cancer for example, will only be used in materials and products when there are no known alternatives and their use is considered essential for the functioning of society. Substances of concern must not be released during production, use or re-use. 

RIVM believes that this transition to a circular economy provides opportunities to deal with substances of high concern safely, and to monitor their use. It is just not easy. RIVM has investigated what is needed to achieve this transition safely and has identified three challenges. First it is essential to share information about the substances used, including substances of high concern, throughout the product chain. Second, all parties in the product chain must ensure that materials and products can be reused safely. Producers should think about this at the design stage of their products. Users, (waste) processors and governments should also contribute. Finally, it's important that everyone involved deals responsibly with the materials and products that contain substances of high concern for which there is no alternative.

Based on these three challenges, RIVM recommends possible actions for the short and longer term. For the short term, RIVM highlights the need to develop a policy vision and interim goals and to prioritise those products, materials and substances for which there is an urgent need to realise safe and circular product chains. These recommendations need to be developed further over the coming years and adapted to the rapidly changing demand for substances created, for example by technical innovation. Additionally, RIVM provides suggestions for monitoring whether reuse/recycling of substances of high concern during the transition to a circular economy is taking place safely.

It is hoped that this report will offer some guidance and help to set an agenda for further debate between governments, companies, NGOs and research centres. This is a debate on policy, science and the monitoring of substances of high concern during the transition to a circular economy. This report was commissioned by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

This report is a translation of report 2019-0186



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