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Regulation and consumer demand driving switch to 'greener' chemicals

By Joe Whitworth , 04-Dec-2012

Demand for products made from greener chemicals is growing due to a mixture of regulation and consumer demand, according to the co-author of a guide urging the switch to safer chemicals.

The Guide to Safer Chemicals identifies the progress of achieving safer chemicals in products and throughout supply chains and illustrates how to get started for brand name companies, product manufacturers, retailers and other organizations.

Examples of chemicals of high concern include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, brominated flame retardants, bisphenol A (BPA), formaldehyde and perfluorinated compounds, states the guide.

Chemical replacement

Dr Mark Rossi, co-director, clean production action and co-chair, BizNGO, told FoodProductionDaily.com it provides help for industry to replace chemicals of concern to human health or the environment in their products.

“The demand for products made of greener chemicals is due to a mixture of regulation and consumer demand.

“The aim is to use chemicals and materials that no-one cares about as they are safe and that means they don’t have to redesign the product.”

BizNGO is made up of businesses, environmental organizations, government agencies and universities.

Principles and benchmarks

The guide identifies four principles: 1) know and disclose product chemistry; 2) assess and avoid hazards; 3) commit to continuous improvement; and 4) support public policies and industry standards to achieve safer chemicals.  

It uses a metaphor of four benchmarks: Trailhead, Base Camp, High Camp and Summit in the bid to implement the principles and to track progress.

For example, it starts with knowing some chemicals of high concern at the Trailhead stage to knowing all chemicals in supply chain and feedstock sources at the Summit benchmark.

“Businesses could look at the guide and set an internal benchmark from it to make sure they are beyond compliance or tell consumers where they are at publically in relation to the chemicals they use in their products," Rossi added.

“It is for companies who want to be out ahead of regulation so they are not forced to act at short notice, they take a strategic decision to avoid high concern and use safer alternatives.”

Safety uncertainty

The uncertainty surrounding the safety of chemicals is eroding consumer confidence in a wide range of products, according to the guide. 

Campbell Soup, Crown Prince Seafood and SIPA are a few of the companies that have removed BPA from some of their products due to concerns, despite the regulatory authorities classifying not forcing them to do so.

Rossi said it was important regrettable substitutes were avoided, citing bisphenol S (BPS) as an example of an area that needs more research.

“Companies need to look at the information available and if it is similar to other areas of concern, look at the modelling data, all the information and scientific data and how does the alternative look. If you can’t change it for the better then don’t make the switch.”

Rossi added the guide was a live resource which welcomed feedback from industry on the subject.