Evaluating the consumption of chemical products and articles as proxies for diffuse emissions to the environment†
In this study we have evaluated the use of consumption of manufactured products (chemical products and articles) in the EU as proxies for diffuse emissions of chemicals to the environment. The content of chemical products is relatively well known. However, the content of articles (products defined by their shape rather than their composition) is less known and currently has to be estimated from chemicals that are known to occur in a small set of materials, such as plastics, that are part of the articles. Using trade and production data from Eurostat in combination with product composition data from a database on chemical content in materials (the Commodity Guide), we were able to calculate trends in the apparent consumption and in-use stocks for 768 chemicals in the EU for the period 2003–2016. The results showed that changes in the apparent consumption of these chemicals over time are smaller than in the consumption of corresponding products in which the chemicals are present. In general, our results suggest that little change in chemical consumption has occurred over the timespan studied, partly due to the financial crisis in 2008 which led to a sudden drop in the consumption, and partly due to the fact that each of the chemicals studied is present in a wide variety of products. Estimated in-use stocks of chemicals show an increasing trend over time, indicating that the mass of chemicals in articles in the EU, that could potentially be released to the environment, is increasing. The quantitative results from this study are associated with large uncertainties due to limitations of the available data. These limitations are highlighted in this study and further underline the current lack of transparency on chemicals in articles. Recommendations on how to address these limitations are also discussed.