Current attempts at the massive undertaking of addressing chemical pollution are not working. For the world to solve the major environmental and health challenges we face, there must be a sustainable chemicals revolution. It is time for governments and civil society to take a fresh look at working together to develop a revolutionary global chemicals strategy – a strategy that delivers on the vision of economic growth and on delivering new, life-changing chemical products.
Scientists in our community have engaged actively with us in round tables and workshop events to help develop our vision for a chemicals strategy. This work, although done in the context of new chemicals strategy development in the UK, sets out principles applicable elsewhere. Together, we have identified four pillars on which any chemicals strategy has to be based: education, innovation, circular economy and regulation.
In our new policy document, "A chemicals strategy for a sustainable chemicals revolution", we have outlined our vision for the year 2030, with respect to these four pillars.
Education. Successful chemistry education gives students the understanding and skills that will enable them to become scientifically literate and responsible citizens, and provides a sound basis for future study and careers in a range of fields. The curriculum at all levels should support students in gaining the necessary skills and understanding to make and use chemicals safely and sustainably for a modern world.
Innovation. Chemical science innovators have the power to create solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges – from climate change to combating disease. When researchers and businesses come together with international collaborators, we can implement new approaches and inventions to tackle the biggest of global challenges, including plastic pollution and climate change.
Circular economy. Circular economy approaches are becoming increasingly possible. New data and digital technologies enable more transparent communication, data sharing and better managed chemical supply chains, although challenges remain. The EU has been leading the way in developing circular economy strategies, and the UK could be a strategic partner in the near future. Circular economy approaches could become a reality through new targeted initiatives in the chemicals sector, including in electronic, plastic and food wastes.
Regulation. Regulators and industry work together to ensure chemicals are made and used in a safe and sustainable way – to benefit society and to create a level playing field for trading chemicals and products. We support risk-based regulation (wherein not only the hazards of chemicals are considered but exposure too) as informed by the best science evidence on exposure, toxicology and considering socio-economic factors, to enable pragmatic and effective decisions to benefit society best.
Science needs to be at the heart of all chemicals strategies. Governments should seek maximum cooperation and consistency with the United Nations Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). We are making the case for UK chemicals strategies to enshrine high standards, cooperation and consistency with EU chemicals policy 2030 and the EU Green Deal.