The main outcome of that February conference was the adoption of a Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) by government ministers and high-ranking representatives of the industry from around the world.
Within the chemical industry, product stewardship has become enshrined as one of the seven codes of management practices that play a key role in the RC certification process operated by the ACC.
The result of several years of negotiation, SAICM has the ambitious aim of achieving by 2020 the use and production of chemicals in ways that lead to the minimization of significant adverse effects on human health and the environment. Now formally adopted by the U.N. Environment Program, the initiative has strong support from the industry. It is clear that SAICM can only achieve its goal by building a new partnership approach, with joint activities among producers, downstream users, governments and other stakeholders, based on a strongly felt shared responsibility, says Peter Elverding, chairman of the board of the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), Brussels, Belgium.
The first steps in that new approach were taken by the ICCA at the Dubai meeting with the launch of the Responsible Care Global Charter and the Global Product Strategy, in partnership with the American Chemistry Council, Arlington, Va. The concept of Responsible Care (RC) isnt new, of course it started in 1985 in Canada and now has spread to more than 50 countries. The Global Charter is set to widen the concept further, while the Global Product Strategy will expand and coordinate the industrys commitment to product stewardship, managing the safe use of chemicals throughout their life cycle. The strategy builds on the success of our product stewardship efforts under Responsible Care, says Jack Gerard, ACC president and CEO.
Within the chemical industry, product stewardship has become enshrined as one of the seven codes of management practices that play a key role in the RC certification process operated by the ACC. By the end of 2007 all of the more than 200 companies taking part in the RC initiative will have to have gained this certification either the RCMS, which verifies that a company has implemented the RC management system, or the RC14001 that combines Responsible Care with the international ISO 14001 environmental management standard.
As director of toxicology services for NSF International, a certifying organization in Ann Arbor, Mich., Clif McLellan is involved in the day-to-day testing of chemical products. I think there is definitely a growing interest in product stewardship from companies looking to establish that their products are safe from start to finish, he says. Sometimes it might be for marketing reasons separating their products from their competitors but entwined in there is some work being done as a protection against litigation.
Global Lifescience Solutions, an NSF International Company formerly known as The Toxicology Group, offers a range of testing programs and services to chemical companies requiring risk or safety assessments of their products, including work for overseas and other companies seeking ISO certification. That international aspect to its work could soon grow as NSF is looking at the pros and cons, McLellan says, of starting a program to certify chemical products under the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) proposals of the European Union (EU), which are currently going through the European Parliament and expected to achieve final approval by the end of year.
Although the ACC considers the REACH proposals to be unworkable, impractical, costly and burdensome, it seems highly likely that any chemical company producing or importing into the EU more than one metric ton per year of any relevant chemical substance will have to have it registered, evaluated (i.e., tested) and, if its highly hazardous, authorized some time within the next year. And with those relevant substances currently numbering around 30,000 chemicals, it could be a busy time ahead for testing bodies like NSF.
That may be for the future, but other EU directives already are making their presence felt here and now, as Lynn Bergeson, CPs regulatory editor, recently reported (August's Compliance Advisor). Two that are especially relevant to product suppliers to the chemical industry and therefore for the product stewardship of the industrys own supply chain are the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive 2002/96/EC and the Restrictions of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Directive 2002/95/EC.
The WEEE Directive aims to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic goods going to landfill or incineration at the end of their useful lives. It mandates that producers take their equipment back and recycle where possible. Consumers are expected to be able to return items they wish to discard to the manufacturers free of charge.
RoHS meanwhile has a more immediate impact on product design. Since July 1, it has banned the manufacture and importing into the EU of any electrical and electronic equipment containing the heavy metals lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, together with the flame retardants polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
NSF already is involved in certifying that products meet the RoHS Directive and is considering introducing a testing program for WEEE compliance as well, McClellan says. Although both of these directives will initially most heavily impact the huge consumer markets for products such as computers, televisions, DVDs, cellphones and all the other trappings of our digital age, they are nevertheless targeted at all electrical and electronic equipment, consumer and industrial.