A political agreement has recently been reached by the European Parliament and the Council to eliminate harmful chemicals in waste, and protect human health and the environment from Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).

POPs are a set of very harmful chemicals that can be found in some water streams. These toxic chemicals remain in the environment for a very long time and accumulate in food chains, the European Commission said.

Although POPs are generally no longer used in new products, they can still be found in waste coming from some consumer products such as waterproof textiles; furniture; plastics; and electronic equipment.

Commenting on the recent agreement, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius said:

“The EU took a decisive step towards protecting our health and environment from POPs in waste. Ambitious limits for these substances are also needed to foster high-quality, toxic-free secondary materials that can be safely used in a growing circular economy.”

Welcoming the agreement, the European Commission said it paves the way for limits on POPs, preventing them from re-entering the economy through recycled materials.

The EU provides itself with stringent limits for the following four substances, or groups of substances, in waste:

  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts and related compounds found in waterproof textiles and fire-fighting foams;
  • Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS) and its salts and related compounds – with similar uses and a “regrettable substitute” of PFOA;
  • Dicofol, a pesticide previously used in agriculture;
  • Pentachlorophenol, its salts and compounds found in treated wood and textiles.

Additionally, the maximum limits for five regulated substances are tightened. This includes POPs that can be found in plastics; textiles; electronic equipment; vehicles; furniture; and building waste.

The European Parliament previously voted for new tougher limits on the use of POPs, following proposals by the commission to review the 2019 regulation on these toxic chemicals.

The commission said this would ensure they are aligned with international obligations, particularly the Stockholm Convention, to eliminate or restrict the use of POPs.