Some harmful chemical substances produced by industrial activities remain in the environment for a very long time once released. There, they can accumulate via the food chain and, if toxic, exert harmful effects on living organisms. These so-called persistent bio-accumulative toxic (PBT) substances can also be transported long distances from their original emission source, causing significant damage to ecosystems. PBT contamination is a recognised problem in the Baltic Sea region. The most effective way to prevent the entry of these hazardous substances into the environment is to prevent the pollution at its emission sources, avoiding the use of these substances in the first place, and finding substitutes.
LIFE Fit for Reach aimed to offer user SMEs a full chemicals’ management package, including capacity building in line with the CLP regulation (Classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures) and MSDS (material safety data sheet) guidelines, information on chemical inventories and general management practices, guidance on how to follow legal obligations on specific substances (SVHC), and proposals on how to implement substitution as a core action to reduce environmental impacts from the use of chemicals in their own products and processes, possibly also realising resource efficiency gains.
Substitution would be used as an entry point to companies and as pilot cases to illustrate all elements of a chemicals’ management at SME level, including the assessment of alternatives, socio-economic evaluation, and an analysis of the social motivation for substitution. The aim was to prepare user SMEs to face the future challenges for chemicals’ management. This means understanding today, any future restrictions i.e. making Baltic SMEs’ Fit for REACH.
Specific objectives were to:
- Develop online tools to assist in the management of chemicals among SMEs ? e.g. for identifying substances based on their CAS number or to check MSDS;
- Carry out a socio-economic impact assessment of the pilot cases and an assessment of motivations for, and barriers to, taking the decision to substitute the chemical;
- Contribute to the SUBSPORT database by entering the Baltic cases and translating international cases to the Baltic languages, thus making them accessible to Baltic SMEs;
- Carry out policy dialogue: round tables on implementation and enforcement of REACH/CLP in the Baltic States; international seminar on new developments in REACH and CLP Directives; and
- Carry out society dialogue: greening industry, greening procurement, greening consumption: assessing public opinion and readiness to support a greener corporate identity and performance of industry.
The LIFE Fit for REACH project realised its main objective of reducing emissions from the use of hazardous substances in the Baltic States. This was achieved by reducing or substituting hazardous substances in products and processes, using alternative and less hazardous chemicals, technologies or organisational measures.
The project team implemented 11 in-depth cases in the facilities of 6 project-partner companies, and 81 “light cases” in 76 other companies. Of the 81 light cases, 40 resulted in the substitution of hazardous chemicals used in products or processes, while the rest were resource efficiency and risk management cases. Changes in the companies resulted in a significant emissions reduction of substances of very high concern (SVHC) listed in the EU REACH regulation. The results show that chemicals substitution is possible even for small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs). The project also increased awareness of, and competencies in, chemical risks in companies. Weaknesses in the implementation of the REACH regulation in Baltic States were identified, as a focus for future improvements.
Specific results included:
- In total, 3 290 people from around 1 500 companies participated in project events and training (1 950 in Lithuania, 690 in Latvia, and 650 in Estonia);
- Guidelines for companies, including on the substitution of SVHCs, environmental claims, hazardous substance-free procurement, classification & labelling, business FAQs;
- Three online tools developed to help SMEs manage chemicals (Inventory, Safety Data Sheet (SDS) quality check, and SubSelect);
- Four scientific publications (plus 4 Masters and 1 Doctoral thesis defended);
- 120 events organised;
- Policy recommendations and findings promoted, and additional briefs published.
The project’s recommendations were published in a document (‘Synthesis and Policy Recommendations’), which has been discussed with national authorities in the Baltic States, and at international meetings. Key recommendations were: support companies so that routine and reliable communication along the supply chain is established; increase the use of chemical information in downstream user companies; consider stricter legal requirements to push for safer chemical use; support substitution with targeted and easily accessible advice and methodologies; create market incentives for less hazardous products; establish and/or strengthen national support infrastructures; and promote the EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability because achieving a non-toxic environment needs concerted action.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).