Chemicals in the Environment
Many environmental policies are seeking to manage exposure to chemicals in the environment. Human health and wildlife can be significantly affected if harmful chemicals are not managed effectively. For example, the Lancet Commission on pollution and health in 2017 stated that ‘pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths”. It is important for the chemicals sciences to contribute to policies that aim to reduce environmental pollution for the benefit of society.
Environmental Principles and Governance
The UK government is in the process of drafting a new Environment Act (the Environmental Principles and Governance Bill), the first for almost 30 years. With the help of our community, we have produced a ‘thought starter’ document ‘Principles for the management of chemicals in the environment’. We have used this document to influence the development of the principles, via our work with the UK Chemicals Stakeholder Forum and our response into Defra’s consultation on the bill.
Environmental Principles & Governance after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union
Managing toxic chemicals in everyday life
Chemicals are all around us in products, air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat and are a part of everyday life. Some chemicals present toxic hazards and risks to human health and the environment. In managing the risks from chemicals we highlight the need for:
transparent decision-making principles for chemicals in the environment and products, to ensure consistency and science-informed decisions that benefit society
effective and independent scientific evaluation and advice mechanisms to ensure consumer confidence in credible chemicals safety decisions
globally harmonised outcomes for chemicals and products regulations, to enable trade of chemicals and products
development of biomonitoring of chemicals in humans and wildlife, to understand the real world exposures to chemicals
Plastic is a versatile material that forms a key component of many products we use today. It is durable and cheap to produce, which is why when it comes to its end of its useful life, it has become a major environmental problem.
The Chemical Sciences have a key role to play in finding solutions to plastic waste. The RSC has run a number of workshops on plastics pollution, which, have brought together researchers and policy makers to review our understanding of the risks and associated with plastic pollution. We have also submitted evidence to Government consultations.
More recently we have brought together academics, industry, government agencies and NGOs through our Synergy programme and the RSC Materials Chemistry Division roundtable meeting to identify opportunities for the chemical sciences to the develop of sustainable plastics. This will help with the transition to the Circular Economy model and serve to inform key policy areas of funding, and regulation that will support the finding of solutions drive innovation in new products and processes.
Air pollution remains the number one environmental issue. It is linked to about 400,000 premature deaths each year in the EU especially among vulnerable groups including children, asthmatics and the elderly.
The two main drivers in air quality policy are limiting human exposure to ambient pollution and reducing the total quantity of emissions. We recently submitted our views to the Government’s Draft Clean Air Strategy 2018 (CAS). Air quality policy needs to ensure that it can tackle the major air pollution issues of relevance for today and develop regulatory and scientific intelligence systems that can adapt to detect future air pollution sources before they become problems.
The impacts of air pollution depend on the type of emission. An understanding of the basic chemistry is needed to develop policies aimed at limiting human exposure to pollutants and to set air quality standards. The RSC has convened a number Faraday Discussions on atmospheric chemistry and our members and interest groups hold frequent events and are actively engaged in the science of air pollution, for example on developing air quality monitoring techniques and new sensors.
Waste & Critical Raw Materials (CRMs)
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream on the planet. WEEE has a high content of ‘Critical’ Raw Materials (CRMs), which are not efficiently recovered. Some raw materials classified as “critical” due to their high economic importance and high risk associated with their continued supply. Recovery of CRMs provides a considerable opportunity to meet materials demands from emerging green technologies in coming years.
Society needs to shift focus through producer and consumer education from waste management to seeing the economic value in waste, enabling efficient CRM recovery in the waste value chain. Further investment for Research & Innovation is required to move to a more circular economy, which builds in whole life cycle assessment and eco-design principles at end of product life.
In the UK, the government is developing a resources and waste strategy for England. We will use our policy work to feed into this strategy as it evolves, and in consideration of existing waste policies in Scotland and Wales, and in the sustainability and circular economy policies in EU and globally.