The European Union has launched a number of plans to help reduce our material and energy footprint, from CO2 emissions reduction plans to its Circular Economy Package. A key challenge for the industry is how to integrate these goals within their current operational contexts and future investment plans whilst at the same time maintaining competitiveness and delivering value to society.
In this context, is there still a role for voluntary product stewardship schemes? A voluntary scheme, developed by the flame retardants industry, offers a model for how this might be achieved.
Brominated flame retardants are polymer additives which help provide materials and polymers with functional properties to meet fire safety standards for different applications. Like any chemicals, they need to be handled correctly to ensure there are no significant impacts for the environment or human health.
In 2004 the voluntary emissions control action programme (VECAP), was set up by the European Flame Retardants Association (EFRA) and UK Textile Finishers Association (TFA).
It has successfully reduced emissions from operations of both BFRs and polymer producers (compounders and masterbatchers) through an industry-led approach to the managing of chemicals above and beyond regulatory requirements.
It has helped therefore to reduce the environmental footprint of this value chain and ensured resources are used as efficiently and sustainably as possible.
VECAP was created by the three main producers of flame retardants in partnership with their users to ensure the environmentally sound management of chemicals. It is based on ISO 14001 principles, is user-friendly and can be implemented by companies of any size. The process is structured to support the principle of continuous improvement.
Some 200 facilities across the EU have been beneficiaries of VECAP since 2004. Measurements of polymer additives emissions cover some 67% of these. Emissions from these facilities have effectively reached default values, meaning that they have the lowest readings achievable.
VECAP’s code of best practice has helped ensure that over 83% of all brominated flame retardants sold in Europe are correctly handled by producers and users. The code is implemented to control and reduce potential emissions of chemicals into the environment for the handling of polymer additives in the production phase of the value chain.
How can this help the EU? VECAP is already providing an example of how a bottom-up commitment can tackle the emissions and meet environmental goals. It shows how industry can act in the interests of society and the environment while enhancing competitiveness.
Voluntary commitments like VECAP offer efficient and flexible solutions that work fast and can achieve significant results in combination with a solid regulatory framework. By building trust in the industry, VECAP’s voluntary commitments have been able to go far beyond regulatory and legislative requirements.
This year, coordinated by the international bromine council (BSEF), the VECAP code of best practices for producers and downstream users of brominated flame-retardant polymer additives was re-launched.
The updated Code of Best Practices provides a refreshed set of “good-housekeeping” practices to help producers and users of polymer additives minimise the impact of polymer handling and use on the environment.
VECAP began 15 years ago to address concerns about production and use industry emissions of additives to the environment. Since its inception, it has not only improved additive management practices in user industry facilities, it has demonstrably reduced emissions. It is a recognized risk reduction measure with clear value added for users and regulators. We hope to see it continue to contribute to environmental risk reduction in the EU and elsewhere around the globe.