For a successful circular economy, it is essential to improve the conditions in which materials and products are recycled once they have reached the end of their life cycle. Recycling can be hampered by the presence of substances of concern. The EU Clean Material Recycling project ‘CleaR’, recently published an evidence-based framework for assessing the presence of substances of concern in waste and recycled materials. CleaR also included the potential adverse effects on human health and the environment.

The CleaR framework was developed to establish whether or not a draft proposal for restriction under the EU chemicals REACH Regulation should include an exemption for recycled materials. The framework provides structure and transparency to support policymakers and competent authorities. It includes all potentially relevant scientific elements, such as human health, the environment, social and economic impacts, and builds on current practice and scientific methods. 

The need to set both safe and sustainable goals contributes to the complexity of combining risk assessment and socio-economic analysis. Approaches to combine these different types of analysis are often case-specific and contain implicit knowledge and procedures. The CleaR framework provides a starting point to tackle this challenge, as it makes the implicit explicit. 

Recommendations

The framework was tested on a case study and the next step should be to further apply the framework in practice. The CleaR framework can be further developed and improved, for example for proxies reducing the workload for authorities. The CleaR framework should also be used outside the context of REACH restrictions. For example for the authorisation or the evaluation of ‘safe and sustainable design’ or ‘design for recycling’.

About CleaR

The Clean Material Recycling project was an EU project funded by DG Environment. RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment coordinated the project. Ramboll Environment & Health GmbH was the main project partner. The CleaR study is available on the publication's website of the EU