In the first few months of 2023, several European Union (EU) initiatives around “forever chemicals” have emerged that we believe could end in a ban of these slow-to-degrade substances. The US and Asia are also seeing increased interest in the issue, which in our view could lead to similar action in these regions.
What are “forever chemicals”?
Coined in 2019, “forever chemicals” is a broad term for PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) – a group of around 10,000 man-made chemicals, in widespread use since the 1940s, that can stay in the environment for thousands or even millions of years.1
These chemicals are heat resistant, extremely durable in nature, slow to degrade and potentially harmful to human health and the environment. Many everyday products contain PFAS, including clothing and textiles, shampoos, coated pans and food packaging.
What are the proposals?
In January 2023, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) received a proposal from five national authorities to ban PFAS.2 Authorities in Germany, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden identified risks in the manufacture, sale and use of PFAS that needed to be addressed throughout the EU and European Economic Area.
If the proposal passes, it will represent one of the largest bans on chemicals ever imposed in Europe. The ECHA’s scientific committees are currently evaluating the proposal in terms of the impact and risks to humans and the environment.
We believe a ban on PFAS could come as early as 2025, although depending on the availability of alternatives, companies could have between 18 months and 12 years to introduce alternatives.
What happens next?
The ECHA will accept public comments on the proposal for six months from March 2023. This means that industry representatives, among others, can submit statements on the planned EU ban. In addition, input from two scientific committees will be included. The agency expects to have a final proposal ready for the European Commission to hold a vote by all EU countries in 2025. If passed, the ban would come into force in 2026 or possibly later.
We welcome this next step in addressing the harmful impact of PFAS globally. While there has been EU regulation on chemicals since 2006,3 and some PFAS bans came into force in 2021, this proposal would not only force change in relevant EU companies – it may also present a framework that could be applied globally.
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