New European Detergent Rules Floated

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 8, 2001 (ENS) - The European Commission's industry directorate has proposed an overhaul of European Union detergents legislation, including stricter standards for surfactant biodegradability and mandatory labelling of products causing skin sensitization or irritation.

The new legislation would introduce producer responsibility for testing, though an initial assessment predicts low extra costs.

The directorate's proposal was published last week as a working document for stakeholder consultation. It has two main goals. The first is to bring into a single regulation five existing European Union laws on detergent biodegradability, which the directorate says have been poorly and patchily implemented.

Second, the directorate wants to introduce stricter testing for surfactants so that only those that are "ultimately biodegradable" reach the market.

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Wash day in a British household (Photo courtesy Freefoto.com)
This means they should break down completely under microbial action to produce water, carbon dioxide and mineral salts. Current law requires only that some surfactants undergo "primary biodegradation," a partial breakdown in which only surface active properties are lost.

If approved by European Union governments and Members of the European Parliament, the regulation would require companies to test products for ultimate biodegradability. Those passing the test would be allowed free access to all European Union markets. Those failing would be banned unless companies could justify the need for a derogation. All substances would have to pass the preliminary biodegradability test.

In a second strand of proposals under the regulation, the directorate also proposes that products should be labelled if an European Union scientific committee finds that they cause skin irritation or sensitization.

Issues around the anaerobic biodegradation of detergents, and of phosphate content, should be dealt with separately within three years, the working paper says.

The main industry body affected by the proposals, Aise, has yet to formally react to the paper. But sources say the rules would, by and large, not present problems for the established consumer product companies forming the bulk of the market, but that small and medium sized firms producing making low volumes could be affected.

The directorate's own business impact assessment says around five percent of existing surfactants could fail the new biodegradability test.

The Surfactants Virtual Library contains links to surfactant and detergent related websites at: http://www.surfactants.net/

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}