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Article related to: People and perspectives
Cleaning up Europe’s act with the SCIP database
Companies supplying products that contain REACH Candidate List substances need to start submitting information on these products to the SCIP database from 5 January 2021. This marks the start of a new era for waste treatment operators. The information is expected to make sorting waste easier and improve the quality of recycled materials.
Whether a product is complex, such as a car built from thousands of articles made of different materials, or something simpler like an envelope, waste treatment operators need to know exactly which chemicals those products include when they enter the waste stage. Currently, it is very difficult to find that information and to guarantee that all hazardous waste is separated correctly. This is what Mike Hale, a consultant representing the European Union for Responsible Incineration and Treatment of Special Waste (EURITS), explains when we speak about the challenges that waste treatment operators are facing related to hazardous chemicals.
|Nicolas Humez. |
Image: Nicolas Humez.
|"Substances of high concern in waste could have a detrimental impact on our health and the environment if they enter into the recycled material." |
He is supported by his colleague, Nicolas Humez, the chair of Hazardous Waste Europe and Director of Public Affairs at SARP Industries. He points out that the mix of different types of waste that treatment companies receive varies daily both in composition and concentration, and it most likely contains hazardous substances. This further increases the complexity of the work and is also why it is essential to collect information on all products containing hazardous substances in one place.
SCIP database – helping to fill information gaps
Both Mr Hale and Mr Humez expect the database to improve their understanding of the waste streams they receive. “From our perspective, the SCIP database will allow us to work out where the most important substances of concern are, in what quantities, and in which waste streams. This, in turn, will let us make more informed choices and develop new options to recover and recycle more of the material,” Mr Hale says.
They are both looking forward to seeing what kind of data producers will enter into the database. The expectation is that the information will be so comprehensive, that after thorough analysis, companies will be able to extract the data that is useful for them and feed it into their own systems and processes to make their day-to-day operations run more smoothly.
According to Mr Hale, industrial waste producers are generally well aware of the content of their waste streams and are able to give relatively reliable information to the waste treatment facilities. For mixed waste streams and particularly for products meant for consumer use, the situation today is quite different. “I think this is the area where we can really benefit from the database. It can help us identify where the greatest problems are and also where the greatest benefits come from. This would impact, for example, product dismantling, separation of the parts that are most contaminated and ensuring that specific parts containing substances of concern can be sent for the correct treatment.”
So in the long run, the information can be used to ensure that hazardous substances that are no longer desirable in society are appropriately treated and kept out of any new products and the environment.
“Just because a waste stream contains one, or several, substances of very high concern, we cannot let them contaminate the total waste stream. This is the kind of information we want to find in the SCIP database and we hope we can do that already in the coming years,” Mr Humez says.
Enabler for recycling, circular economy and non-toxic environment
The more we speak in terms of circularity and give importance to values like a non-toxic environment, the more we also need to speak about what happens with our waste and what is needed to improve its treatment.
“Waste itself is not a resource or material. But, there is potential for it to become a resource or material if we do something about it. Substances of high concern in waste could have a detrimental impact on our health and the environment if they enter into the recycled material,” Mr Humez reminds.
Entering the circular economy era, the position on waste and waste treatment has changed. So far, it has been considered as being the end of product life cycle but the current political and societal shift has moved it to the middle of the material loop. When waste is seen as something that we can give a new life to, it places new responsibilities on those separating it and creating new materials. “As the provider of this secondary raw material, we have to ensure that the quality of the recycled material is high,” Mr Humez explains.
Mr Hale agrees and reminds that he is also often faced with doubts when it comes to using recycled material. “The customers don’t have the confidence that recycled material is as good as virgin material or it doesn’t make sense economically because virgin material is still cheaper for them to use. So, what we need to do is to find ways past those roadblocks.”
|Mike Hale. |
Image: Mike Hale.
|"By taking advantage of the information in the SCIP database we can really clean up our act and make sure that the recycled materials that we are producing are of good quality." |
But to be able to realise the potential that waste as recycled material possesses, information is key. “We are already seeing a trend that it is becoming more and more accepted for Europe to send its waste to low-cost countries although there is potential for it to be a valuable resource that we can exploit within Europe. But if we want to do that we need to be more intelligent – for example, by taking advantage of the information in the SCIP database. This way we can really clean up our act and make sure that the recycled materials that we are producing are of good quality,” Mr Hale insists.
Although the database is not yet available and it will take some time to have comprehensive information there, Mr Humez and Mr Hale already have an impressive wishlist for future improvements that could make the database even more useful.
First, it would be helpful in the longer term, if the definition of a substance of very high concern could be broadened to also cover other hazardous substances than those included in the REACH Candidate List.
Second, discussions must continue on how to make sure that substances that change their regulatory status during their lifetime are captured in the database, too. It is not unusual that at the time of production certain chemicals are not considered as substances of very high concern, but during the lifespan of 10-15 years the understanding about those chemicals grows. By the time the product reaches the waste stage, it contains more substances of very high concern than originally thought. This can lead to unintentional contamination of the recycled material.
The third idea focuses on those chemicals that are of interest instead of those that are of concern. This list would contain substances which are particularly valuable or rare. “If waste treatment operators would be able to find these substances more easily in the waste streams, that could help drastically diminish the amount of virgin materials that we need to extract from nature,” Mr Hale concludes.
Did you know?
The SCIP database is the tool that will collect information on Substances of Concern In articles as such or in complex objects (Products) established under the Waste Framework Directive.
Companies supplying articles containing substances of very high concern on the Candidate List in a concentration above 0.1 % weight by weight on the EU market have to submit information on these articles to ECHA from 5 January 2021.
The prototype of the database is expected to be released later in February 2020 and the first full version will be launched in October 2020.
Eurits and Hazardous Waste Europe
The European Union for Responsible Incineration and Treatment of Special Waste, Eurits, is a non-profit organisation with 22 members and a total workforce of more than 4 500. Their 40 plants treat almost three million tonnes of hazardous waste per year. Eurits represents the special waste treatment industry in discussions with the EU Parliament and Commission.
Hazardous Waste Europe represents 155 hazardous waste treatment installations in Europe with a total treatment capacity of 4.5 million tonnes per year. It promotes high quality processes for the treatment of hazardous waste, environmental protection, human health and safety of workers and takes part in regulatory discussions both on a national and international level. It has members located in 11 European countries. http://www.hazardouswasteeurope.eu/
Interview by Päivi Jokiniemi
Published on: 13 February 2020
Top image: © Pixabay/Manfred Richter
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