Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home topics Environment REACH - Recycling and Waste Prevention - Clean Air

REACH - Recycling and Waste Prevention - Clean Air

02 September 2009
by inadim -- last modified 03 September 2009

A long-awaited compromise on the REACH - the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals - was adopted by the European Union in December 2006, to come into force in June 2007. REACH is hoped to increase protection of human health and the environment while enhancing the innovative capability and competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.



The REACH package requires the manufacturers and importers of chemicals to provide health, environmental and safe use data for some 30 000 chemical substances currently used in everyday products. These include a wide range from plastics used in toys, mobile phones and household articles to chemicals used in cleaning products, paints, textiles, and in various industrial processes.

All substances must be registered over a period of 11 years at the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. The agency will coordinate the in-depth evaluation of registered chemicals and run a public database in which consumers and professionals can find information. The work will begin with chemicals used with highest volumes and/or risks. If a safer substance is available, the more risky one must be replaced. The responsibility for proving that their products are safe rests with the manufacturers.

Recycling and Waste Prevention

In the European Union, some 1.3 billion tons of waste is generated every year. Some 40 million tons of this are dangerous substances. Every EU citizen produces on an average over 500 kilos of waste per year, but less than a third of municipal waste is recycled and almost half goes to landfill sites.

Despite the growing heap of waste, European solutions to waste generation have, for a long time, been fragmented. A dozen, inefficient directives have been produced since the 1970’s. In December 2005, however, the European Commission presented its Thematic Strategy on Waste Prevention and Recycling, a new approach to waste management that takes into account the whole life-cycle of each product. The goal is to cut waste generation and boost recycling and recovery by creating a market for recycled materials.

As a first step of the new strategy, the commission proposed a revision of the 1975 Waste Framework Directive, to include a life-cycle approach into waste policy, national waste prevention programmes, revamping of the recycling market, promotion of economic instruments such as landfill taxes by the member states and modernization of waste legislation.

In 2006, while discussing the revision of the waste directive, the EU Environment Council emphasized the importance of minimizing waste generation and taking waste prevention into account in such fields as product policy and eco-design of electrical appliances.

In February 2007, the European Parliament demanded that binding targets be set for waste reduction and the introduction of a five-step waste hierarchy that gives priority to prevention, reuse and recycling over landfills. The Parliament wants to stabilize waste production by 2012 to the level produced in 2008, and for waste production to start declining from 2020. By 2020, 50 percent of municipal solid waste should be recycled.

The discussion on EU waste policy continues. A particularly thorny issue remaining is whether incineration of waste should be reclassified from “disposal” to “recovery” for energy production.

Clean air

The European Commission estimates that air pollution from ultra fine dust particles and ozone caused 370 000 deaths in the EU in the year 2000. In 2005, the Commission presented its Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution – which it hopes will reduce the number of air pollution deaths to 230 000 by 2020.


The strategy focuses on reducing emissions from five key pollutants and ground-level ozone by 2020:

  • Particulate Matter – fine dust particles, emitted directly e.g. by cars or formed by a chemical reaction, are the biggest air pollution threat to human health
  • Ammonia – emitted mainly from animal wastes and fertilizers
  • Nitrogen oxides – causes acid rain, algae excess in lakes and ground-level ozone
  • Sulphur dioxide – formed by combustion of coal and oil
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – emitted by paints, solvents, transport fuels and is a key component in ground-level ozone
  • Ground-level ozone – formed by nitrogen oxide and volatile organic components, potentially lethal to human beings and the cause of heavy pollution in forests and agriculture

The Commission wants to set air pollution standards that other countries in the world will follow, eventually giving EU businesses a competitive advantage through the adoption of cleaner technology.

The cost of the strategy is estimated to be €7.1 billion annually until 2020. However, the Commission’s Environment DG estimates that the related health benefits, including a drop in premature deaths, fewer sick days and improved labour productivity, as well as lower hospital admissions, would be worth at least €42 billion per year.

The related new Ambient Air Quality Directive entered into force in June 2008. Under this new legislation, member states need to cut exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) in urban areas by an average of 1/5 by 2020 based on 2010 levels. Time extensions of three to five years are possible for coarser particles (PM10), nitrogen dioxide and benzene in certain areas.