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Päivi Jokiniemi and Paul Trouth
Article related to: Communicating about safety
Danish app for consumers a big success
In April 2014, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Consumer Council launched an app to enable consumers to scan products for substances of very high concern (SVHCs). So far, consumers in Denmark have used the application almost 70 000 times, and awareness about chemicals in consumer products is growing.
The free app for mobile phones allows consumers to check whether a product contains hazardous substances on the Candidate List of SVHCs. By scanning a product's barcode, the app sends a request to the manufacturer. The manufacturer or supplier has to reply to the consumer within 45 days (and free of charge) if the product contains SVHCs in concentrations of more than 0.1% of its weight. They must also give information about how to use the product safely.
Over 1 000 companies have provided information on their products for the database which means that the answer can be sent immediately to the consumer's phone. In more than 7 000 cases, the consumer has received an answer right away instead of having to wait 45 days. This is great for consumers, but increasingly, companies are using it to their own benefit by enabling consumers to immediately see that their products are safe. In Denmark, many large companies have provided information on their entire product series to the database to stress that none of their products contain SVHCs. So far, most of the products in the database do not contain SVHCs.
Companies are requested to update their information every six months to take into account the new substances on the Candidate List of SVHCs.
Yes, we scan!
The Danish app has been downloaded more than 25 000 times and almost 70 000 product scans have been done. "Scanning events" and an online campaign have increased its visibility in Denmark.
The goal of the app is to raise consumers' awareness of their right to ask about SVHCs in products, which was introduced with REACH. The right applies to articles such as toys, electronics, clothes or furniture. It does not apply to food, cosmetics, medicines or mixtures, such as detergents or paints. This is still a challenge for many consumers to understand – why some products and not others? In fact, many of the first consumer scans were made on food or cosmetics, which are not covered by REACH. However, the actual packaging of these products does fall under the right to ask.
"For seven years, European consumers have had the right to know about Candidate List substances in goods they buy, but practically no one was exercising this right," tells Claus Jørgensen, Senior Project Manager from the Danish Consumer Council. "The app makes it easier for consumers, retailers and producers to communicate about the Candidate List substances included in products. Hopefully, this will mean better informed consumers and, in the long run, fewer products containing Candidate List substances," he adds.
Christel Søgaard Kirkeby, communications advisor in the Danish Environment Protection Agency, continues: "The right to know is in line with Danish priorities in regard to chemicals in consumer goods. The app is a result of demands for more information on hazardous chemicals from the Danish Parliament".
The "push" factor
Growing consumer awareness increases the pressure on manufacturers and importers to know their REACH obligations. In the long term, the right to ask is a "push" factor in replacing hazardous chemicals with safer ones. This way, consumers can send a strong message to retailers and manufacturers and encourage them to offer safer alternatives and use non-SVHC substances in their products. The Danish app is also being used by retailers to get more information about the products they sell from their supply chain.
An invitation to others
The Danish authorities are already planning the next steps. "At the moment, we are improving the app based on the feedback we have received from consumers, retailers and industry. At the same time, we are in the midst of a larger and more thorough evaluation. The evaluation will give us even more information on how the app is used, how it is being perceived and how we can improve it further," Mr Jørgensen stresses. "We are also talking with non-governmental organisations and authorities in other European countries in an effort to try and give the app life in these countries in the near future," Ms Kirkeby adds.
The Danish app was inspired by a German project where, in cooperation with the non-governmental organisation "BUND", the environmental protection authorities are making a similar project. The goal is to establish a European-wide database that can be used by all the countries that want to join this system.
Please contact the Danish EPA for more information on the project: email@example.com.
|Growing consumer awareness increases the pressure on manufacturers and importers to know their REACH obligations. In the long term, the right to ask is a "push" factor in replacing hazardous chemicals with safer ones.|
- Danish app
- Promotion video (in Danish)
- German online tool for consumer enquiries
- Candidate List of SVHCs
- ECHA's Chemicals in our Life pages
- ECHA's consumer video "The Price You Pay - use your right to ask!"
Did you know?
Manufacturers and importers of articles must:
The notification should be made at the latest six months after the substance has been included in the Candidate List.
Text by Tiiu Bräutigam
All images: Claus Jørgensen
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26 February-1 March
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Committee for Socio-Economic
18-22 March (tentative)
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13-17 May (tentative)