European regulation should support the non-ferrous metal industry to be globally competitive, otherwise more and more production and recycling will occur overseas, said ILA Regulatory Affairs Director Steve Binks, at a recent Eurometaux debate.
At the event in Brussels, featuring a panel of regulatory experts discussing the topic From Words to Actions: Defining the Non-Toxic Environment, Dr Binks explained how metals are one of the most easily recycled materials used by society and are at the forefront of the circular economy.
He argued that it was not possible to make a literal interpretation of the term ‘non-toxic environment’ and that it would be a mistake to focus on regulation based on hazard, but instead should be based on an assessment of risk related to their specific use.
Dr Binks said: “We believe that a much more holistic vision of environmental strategy is needed and that it is damaging to both the environment and EU Industry to address aspects such as climate change, the circular economy and chemicals policy in isolation. Frankly recent actions, such as calls for the substitution of metals from lead batteries, which are pivotal in providing energy storage solutions, does untold damage to the lead battery industry in Europe.
“A strategy for a non-toxic environment must surely be based upon risks, wider environmental life cycle impacts, technical performance requirements and socio-economics and not purely be based on an ideological vision to phase out use of chemicals based upon intrinsic hazard irrespective of the wider cost. Decisions on substitution cannot be short-circuited and there must be a robust and thoughtful analysis of all of these aspects.”
Dr Binks said that the metals industry had already achieved many chemicals management goals and could achieve far more if the hazard profiles of substances and their risks was understood better.
He added: “The assessment of environmental and health effects of metals requires the development of special approaches. We have found that many of the standard OECD tests for organic substances simply do not work for metals - the recent problems with classification of metal alloys and the development of bioelution protocols is an example of this.”
Better knowledge transfer to stakeholders so that they can adopt the appropriate risk management measures is needed and this should it also apply to metal producers and recyclers in countries in transition.
He added: “European producers have a responsibility to help to progress efforts in the developing world by sharing the knowledge we have developed over decades about the properties of our metal commodities and manufacturing and recycling processes that will help reduce risk.”
Industry also needed to build on its recycling success to ensure that collection and recycling rates improved and that more metals are used in a closed loop. “We can’t hide behind a message that a metal commodity is highly recycled if that process itself is polluting. However, at least in Europe, the good news is that the trend is for continuous improvement in this regard with lower and lower environmental emissions and workplace exposures for metals.”
The members of the Eurometaux panel were Jack de Bruijn, ECHA Director of Risk Management, Bjorn Hansen, Head of Unit for Chemicals at the EU Commission and Frida Hok, Senior Policy Advisor at Chemsec.
Mr de Bruijn called for industry to be proactive and to take a long-term business perspective to help create a non-toxic environment. He said that if industry aims to stay one step ahead of its competition it will create ‘a win-win situation for the future’.
Notes to editors
The International Lead Association is the trusted global trade association for the lead industry and its member companies are at the forefront of the mining, smelting, refining and recycling of lead. ILA represents the producers of about 3 million tonnes of lead. The association is working towards a vision of a sustainable global lead industry that is recognised for the positive contribution it makes to society.
ILA takes a leadership role in promoting responsible care and educating society about the benefits of lead for today’s and future generations. Recent studies have shown that lead-based batteries achieve a recycling rate of 99% in the EU and USA.
With offices in the UK and USA, ILA provides a range of technical, scientific and communications support for member companies, downstream users and the wider lead industry. ILA also supports the development of lead-based batteries through the Advanced Lead Acid Battery Consortium which manages the research, development and promotion of lead batteries for markets such as hybrid electric vehicles, start-stop automotive systems and grid-scale energy storage applications.
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