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Ecolabeling a Critical Tool to Manage Chemicals in Electronics

Ecolabeling initiatives can help manage chemicals of concern in the electronics sector, according to a report published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The authors make recommendations for scaling up ecolabeling initiatives to better track and control the use of chemicals of concern along the electronics value chain.

The report titled, 'Addressing the Issue of Chemicals of Concern in Electronics: Challenges and recommendations for labelling initiatives,' explores the ways in which ecolabels for electronic products may incentivize the reduction of such chemicals, and/or their improved management. It argues that ensuring access to chemical information by all stakeholders in the value chain is important to minimizing chemical hazards of electronic products, while enabling circularity. It also concludes that, while legislation can control market access and include specific provisions on the use of chemicals of concern, ecolabels can recognize best practices and are a practical tool for the industry to enhance transparency and traceability through the value chain and drive progress beyond regulations. 

Ecolabels are a practical tool for the electronics industry and can drive progress beyond regulations.

The report also highlights challenges and gaps related to the ability of labeling initiatives to improve chemicals management in the electronics sector. These include the complex and international nature of value chains, cost- or capacity-related barriers to adopting ecolabels, and knowledge gaps regarding the presence of chemicals of concern that may undermine ecolabels’ and auditors’ capacity to assess and certify products.

Labeling initiatives can address both demand and supply. They can help consumers make informed choices around product purchase, use and end of life, and they can incentivize producers to trace and improve life cycle management of chemicals present in products.

The report recommends that ecolabeling initiatives:

  • ensure that chemicals-related criteria consider the entire life cycle of a product, from upstream (including raw material extraction, and manufacturing and use phases) to downstream (end-of-life);
  • provide a list of prohibited chemicals and/or general categories of prohibited chemicals and/or establish a list of chemicals that are allowed for use under the label; and
  • increase alignment and interoperability of criteria with other labelling initiatives.

The report stresses that criteria on the use of chemicals should be based on the latest scientific evidence and continuously updated it to guide towards a more environmentally friendly market segment for fast developing products like electronics. The impacts of alternative chemicals should be considered.

Regarding next steps, the report recommends: increasing consumer awareness on the issue of chemicals in electronics; building in-country testing capacity for accurate and better measurement of the presence of chemicals of concern to ensure industry is held accountable and can meet ecolabel requirements; maximizing alignment and interoperability of chemicals of concern-related criteria across ecolabels; and making better use of the complimentary roles that ecolabeling and regulatory approaches can play to advance the issue of chemicals of concern in electronics.
 
The document is the result of a multi-stakeholder process initiated by a workshop on ‘Addressing the challenge of chemicals of concern enabling circular electronics,’ held in November 2020. It was prepared by UNEP in partnership with the One Planet network Consumer Information Programme (CI-SCP) under the SAICM GEF 9771 project Global best practices on emerging chemical policy issues of concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). [Report landing page] [Publication: Addressing the Issue of Chemicals of Concern in Electronics: Challenges and recommendations for labelling initiatives]