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Substituting hazardous chemicals in manufacturing processes | Are you considering the sustainable benefits?

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Substituting hazardous chemicals in manufacturing processes | Are you considering the sustainable benefits?

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recently released collateral relating to the substitution of hazardous chemicals for safer alternatives within manufacturing ingredients. The incentive behind the scheme is to improve technical functionality whilst reducing the potential associated risks.

However it is not as simple as merely switching to a “safer” chemical; an alternative manufacturing technique may be implemented to make the manufacturing process less hazardous or an alternative product design may be applied.

ECHA is outlining the benefits to chemical manufacturers of substitution as driving sustainable innovation, improving efficiency, gaining a competitive advantage, enhancing safety and reducing costs. This blog will take a look at these benefits whilst also highlighting the barriers that driving chemical manufacturers away from substituting.

Why should process manufacturers substitute hazardous chemicals?

  • Innovation and efficiency – Investing in safer alternatives gives your company the chance to audit the materials and processes currently in place and identify changes that may need to be made. You may realise that the substance you are using is now redundant if you look at other ways to manufacture. Looking at your product life cycle may also enable you to find ways to reduce waste and lower the use of your resources.
  • Competitive advantage – As the EU tightens regulations on the use of hazardous chemicals, you can stay ahead of the competition by incorporating safer alternatives now, not only will this give you the stamp of sustainability but also experience in “greener” alternatives giving you the edge over your competition. You can also reduce the cost to your consumer of complying with the legislation regarding chemical safety and ultimately make end of life cycle disposal less cost intensive.
  • Regulatory cost savings – Managing the risks associated with using hazardous chemicals can be both time consuming with higher levels of control, and costly. You can reduce the time and cost associated by using safer products or manufacturing techniques.
  • Sustainability – As well as reducing the risk to the environment, you are reducing the risk to your consumers and employees. Many companies see substitution as simply “doing the right thing” and with environmental concern rising both you and your customers can market yourselves as the “greener alternative”.

The challenges of substituting chemicals within production processes

  • There is a certain hesitation among production managers in engaging in substitution tasks. With operating processes optimised there is both a sense of control over the current production process and the hazardous chemicals involved, therefore no reason to change, and a feeling of insecurity when looking at alternative production techniques and substitutes.
  • Substitutes may not result in the same product quality or characteristics, an example I can draw upon is the changes in paint stripper regulations. Paint strippers were once able to contain Dichloromethane (DCM) a highly effective stripping agent once used to remove varnish and paint from vehicles without damaging the material underneath. In 2010 regulations were put in place to ban DCM based paint strippers from the UK market (substituting organics based solvents for water based solvents). The UK automotive market still struggles to find an effective less hazardous alternative that is suitable for at-home use.
  • It is important that the substitute or the new production process is in fact better for the environment and for human health. This means that it is important to know the exact chemical composition of the products. Substitution can sometimes be seen as “the lesser of two evils” for example, the question has been raised of whether the environment really is protected better when low energy light bulbs are used instead of classic light bulbs. Low energy light bulbs use less energy but, in turn, they may contain a small amount of mercury which can be harmful to the environment if they are not disposed of correctly. Here, Which dispel some energy saving light bulb myths.
  • In order to prevent substitutions of a hazardous chemical substance from causing harm to the environment, it is important to look into its entire life cycle – this means, examining the effects of the substance on the environment during the production of raw material, the actual manufacturing process, its use and during the waste disposal.

Over time, the most hazardous substances are being identified under REACH, as substances of very high concern. Companies are being given a sunset date on the use of these chemicals.

Put quite simply it would seem that many hazardous chemicals are being phased out of production in Europe and chemical manufacturing companies are being given a grace period in order to find alternatives.

How can business management technology support this change in production processes?

There is great potential for substitutions, but  the market recognises that substitution projects can be time consuming as they often involve additional extensive research and development. A sector specific business management system like Prodware Adjust Chemicals  powered by market leading ERP Microsoft Dynamics NAV, can help drive innovation within formula management, automating manufacturing production, analysing multi-level processes and ensuring compliance to local and international legislation. Contact us today for more information on how ERP for chemicals manufacturing can support changes in the use of hazardous chemicals in manufacturing.

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