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Editor-in-chief: Maurizio Roncaccia
Editors: Paul Trouth and Päivi Jokiniemi
Article related to: People and perspectives
Safer chemicals and products make great business sense
Looking for a marketing edge in challenging times? Don’t overlook how important safer chemicals and products are to an increasing number of consumers. A new European study of almost 28 000 people in 28 countries shows that 65 % are concerned about being exposed to hazardous chemicals. That’s a big market.
Not only are consumers concerned about the safety of chemicals, but the media are focusing on it, too. Of course, the media focus tends to be on substances that may cause harm – all the more reason to make sure that the substances you work with have the lowest possible hazard profile.
65 % of EU citizens said that they are concerned, to different extents, about being exposed to hazardous chemicals.
26% were very concerned; and
39% were a little concerned.
The level of concern varies according to the respondents’ Member State, with those in northern Europe generally feeling more informed and less concerned than those in southern Europe. Having said that, in every Member State, at least half of the respondents showed some level of concern.
The data behind the survey results are pretty solid. Almost 28 000 EU citizens were interviewed face-toface and in their native language.
Are hazard pictograms helpful?
The survey also looked at citizens' awareness of the hazard pictograms. Despite the fact that citizens may have had limited opportunity to become familiar with the new pictograms, some are already very familiar with them.
92 % have seen the ‘flammability’ pictogram and almost all of them (96 %) knew its meaning.
At the other end of the scale, only 20 % recognised the ‘serious health hazard’ pictogram.
Citizens also act on the information you provide on your labels:
76 % read the safety instructions,
57 % read the instructions on the label, and
19 % also search for further information.
Only 10 % said that they use the product as they would any other product. 9 % would not use a product with a hazard pictogram.
Are citizens more positive about EU products?
Almost half of the respondents, 47 %, thought that products manufactured in the EU are safer than those produced elsewhere. Only 5 % thought that products imported from outside the EU contain safer chemicals.
Interestingly, as many as 30 % had little confidence in either – believing that neither products manufactured inside or outside the EU contain safe chemicals.
Citizens see an improvement
Respondents to the survey were also asked whether they thought the safety of products containing chemicals has improved or deteriorated, compared to 10 to 15 years ago.
44 % think that the safety of chemicals in products has improved over the last 10 to 15 years;
33 % feel it is more of less the same; while
16 % feel that it has deteriorated.
Citizens' apps are increasing transparency
Checking products for harmful substances is getting easier. Not only do citizens have the legal right to ask about substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in the products they buy, but free apps are also being developed to make that information much more accessible.
There are already some apps that enable citizens to check if a product contains any SVHCs.
The apps use the list of SVHCs and combine it with the product’s barcode. They also help consumers contact the producers to check whether the product contains any hazardous chemicals. The question is sent to the owner of the barcode, the supplier, who then has to answer within 45 days according to REACH.
The apps also host databases that store the answers and make them immediately available to the next consumer asking the same question – saving them 45 days of waiting.
The Danish app Tjek kemien also sends a notification to the supplier giving them the option to update the answer.
This is only the beginning. A new app that covers the whole of the EU has been awarded EU funding and is on the drawing board, but it might take a few years before that is ready to download.
Either way, the message is clear – your marketing advantage lies with safer chemicals.
The smart players are staying ahead of the game and making sure that their chemicals are as safe as they can be. Make sure you do the same.
There are some apps available that enable citizens to check if a product contains any hazardous chemicals. You also have the legal right to ask a seller whether the product you are planning to buy contains hazardous chemicals. Image: ECHA.