The American way
The University of Massachusetts Lowell has been involved in assessing safer alternatives for more than 25 years – they identify, compare and help companies to select safer alternatives to chemicals of concern. There has been a significant evolution in frameworks, tools and initiatives to support "informed" substitution in recent years in the United States.
The goal is to gain and share knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages of chemical or non-chemical alternatives. "This knowledge is essential as we don't want to end up with regrettable substitution," advises Dr Tickner. "On one hand, it is important to evaluate whether there is a safer alternative, but on the other, you must consider how you can make it work for industry".
Substitution in Europe vs substitution in the United States
The main driver for substitution in the United States is consumer and business pressure, while in Europe the pressure comes more from regulatory bodies and policies. "We see an evolving consumer who is concerned about the chemicals in the products they buy," Dr Tickner says and continues: "Consequently, retailers and brands are demanding safer products from suppliers."
However, when an American company is considering substitution government bodies have generally had a more involved role, particularly in Massachusetts where evaluation of alternatives is mandatory for manufacturers using toxic chemicals. "Those completing the toxics use reduction plans must complete a 48 hour course that helps ensure the quality of the assessments. We also work very closely with industry on the implementation phase to make sure that substitution really happens and the toxic reduction is real. We also focus more on the process, application and implementation, while the EU approach focuses more on the outcome," Dr Tickner compares.
The US way of performing alternative assessments has been more about the hazardous properties of substances, and avoiding those in substitutes, and less about exposure and risk as in Europe.
Dr Tickner's tips for companies considering substitution
The move towards safer chemicals is about partnerships and collaboration within your supply chain and your sector. Identify the barriers and learn the best practice from your own sector as well as from other sectors.
Focus on the application to identify where there is a potential pre-competitive collaboration to design, test and adapt an alternative to a chemical of concern.
Read an interview with Dr. Tickner in our newsletter.