In a circular economy, products, materials and raw materials are continually reused. For example, consumer products like clothes, packaging and toys. Unfortunately, there is a risk that hazardous substances will be reused as well. With this in mind, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has set out the possible risks to which a scenario like this could expose consumers. These would appear to be limited at the current time. RIVM is making recommendations with a view to promoting the safety of the circular economy.  

The Dutch government aims to have established a fully circular economy by 2050. This will reduce the volume of (new) raw materials and also the impact on the environment. However, recycled products must be safe for consumers. So, it is vital to know whether materials and products contain hazardous substances and, if they do, whether this could have consequences for the health of consumers. In this research project, RIVM has set out the developments expected and also the possible risks.

More research on the presence of substances and the risks they pose

The risks possible for consumers are probably limited at the moment, because very few consumer products are currently made from recycled material. However, the number of such products is expected to increase in the years ahead. Hence why RIVM is urging for more research to be done on the presence of hazardous substances in recycled raw materials. This will be important, to guarantee the safety of consumer products. RIVM advises policy makers, knowledge institutions and companies to do this research together to increase the chance of success. 

Safe design

Producers can incorporate the later reuse of (consumer) products into the design stage of these products. This could include choosing materials that are easy to separate and do not contain any hazardous substances. For this reason, RIVM advises policy makers to introduce legislation to ensure that producers are (and can be) transparent about the composition of their products and also that this information ‘accompanies’ a product, so that waste processors know which hazardous substances it contains. This will make an increasing number of raw materials and products suitable for reuse.