The Right Chemistry

How to cleanse your company of chemical 'SINs'

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Increasing numbers of companies are starting to take sustainability seriously by introducing strategies to decrease energy demands, improve water management, shrink waste output and in other ways limit their ecological footprints.

Some companies are also taking a stand by actively trying to reduce the hazardous chemicals in their products as well as in their supply chain and production processes.

However, sustainable chemicals management is still not as high on the agenda for sustainability leaders as is needed to make sure we face a less toxic future. Chemical restrictions and bans are increasing globally, and the market of tomorrow will be less toxic.

Having hazardous chemicals in your products and processes not only endangers your reputation, but also can cause severe financial impacts. Examples include expensive last-minute re-formulations or process changes, litigation, fines, product recalls, workers’ health-related costs, unnecessary costs for training, storage and waste management and decreasing sales and market shares.

We know progressive chemicals management is not an easy task. It includes several steps — from knowing what’s in your products to identifying which chemicals to step away from. Then what to substitute for them, or how to develop techniques to make hazardous chemicals obsolete? So, how to approach all of this, where to start?

SIN list logoChemSec is a non-profit organization that develops concrete tools to help companies do exactly this: improve their chemicals management. Our best-known and most widely used tool globally is the SIN List, which will give you guidance on which chemicals to avoid in your products. We have recently updated the SIN List, and presented a new tool, SINimilarity, that is closely linked to the SIN List (see more about this update below).

The SIN List

The SIN (Substitute It Now!) List is not just any list of high-concern chemicals. The strength of it lies in its conservative link to the comprehensive EU chemicals regulation REACH.

EU member states have decided that so-called Substances of Very High Concern should be put on a Candidate List within REACH. Eventually these chemicals will be banned throughout the EU unless a company has been granted authorization for a specific use, for a limited time period. However, the REACH process is not very quick. This piece of legislation entered into force in 2007. Today 155 chemicals are on the Candidate List, but only 31 chemicals have entered the authorization phase and thus been given “sunset dates.”

The chemicals on the SIN List, totalling around 800 CAS numbers today, have been identified by ChemSec as being Substances of Very High Concern based on the criteria laid down in REACH. The aim of the SIN List is both to speed up REACH implementation and to help downstream users of chemicals find out which substances they should start acting on to be prepared for upcoming regulations. REACH is in the frontline of chemical regulations globally, and the SIN List sheds light on the direction that future chemical legislation is taking.

The SIN List is a commonly used tool globally. It has been recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme as a useful tool for chemical hazard assessment, and the European Commission has highlighted the list as a major driver for innovation.

Updated with new chemicals and groupings

At the beginning of October we presented our latest update to the SIN List, and took the SIN concept one step further by focusing on sustainable innovation and the need to avoid regrettable substitution — in other words, substituting hazardous chemicals with other chemicals that might be less well known at the time, but turn out to be just as hazardous.

Closeup of molecule model

A chemical that's similar in structure to a known hazardous chemical may be just as bad.

We added 28 new chemicals (PDF) to the list, many being used to replace better known hazardous chemicals, but which are in fact just as problematic. Bisphenol F and S are two such examples, commonly used to replace the better known and widely used Bisphenol A. Modified versions of already regulated brominated flame retardants and fluorinated chemicals also were added.

With this update we also grouped the SIN List into 31 groups based on structural similarity and specific functional elements. By grouping chemicals on the SIN List we hope to spark a dialogue on how to incorporate the grouping of chemicals in the regulatory context.

More concrete tools: SUBSPORT and SINimilarity

So, the SIN List gives you a clear view of which chemicals are most problematic according to EU regulation criteria. But the question remains: What do you substitute them with, and which substitutes should you avoid?

A couple of years ago we helped to develop SUBSPORT, a site that presents company case stories of successful substitution examples, where you can find inspiration and guidance.

This autumn we also introduced SINimilarity, a tool designed to identify substances that are similar to the SIN chemicals. In our online search it is now possible to search among 80,000 chemicals, and if the substance you have searched for is not on the SIN List, you can find out if it is structurally similar to any of the SIN chemicals. For substances that are, we recommend further investigations before use.

At our SIN event in Brussels in October, Debbie Raphael, director at San Francisco Department of the Environment (and former director of California Department of Toxic Substances Control), who has struggled with addressing the issue of regrettable substitution in the context of California regulations, said: "Manufacturers must ask themselves a very different question: Is this chemical necessary? Is there a safer alternative? I believe the updated SIN List as well as the SINimilarity tool can be very helpful to manufacturers and designers seeking to answer these questions and bring safer products to market."

Ongoing business dialogue

Besides offering concrete tools such as these, ChemSec is also in close dialogue with leading multinationals. For several years we have worked with a number of big corporations closely in the ChemSec Business Group, including IKEA, Dell, Sony Mobile, Boots, Shaw and Skanska. This is a group for solution-oriented discussions, both between NGOs and companies, and among companies from different sectors and branches. The group has at various times acted as an important voice supporting stronger chemical standards and stricter chemical legislation.

We believe that the companies best prepared for tomorrow are the companies that are continuously improving their chemicals management, that are able to turn new scientific knowledge into new solutions and safer products. These businesses don’t get caught by legislative improvements, rather they are driving the market as well as inspiring regulators to move ahead.

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