Chemicals: Single window regulatory system in the offing | Sunday Observer

Chemicals: Single window regulatory system in the offing

Chemical consumption and the number of safety related incidents have increased
Chemical consumption and the number of safety related incidents have increased

The draft national policy on chemical management, a much needed legislation to minimise the use of chemicals for health safety and environmental protection, will be presented to the public for views and thereafter, to the Cabinet for approval, a government official said at a forum on ‘Sustainable Chemical Management: Economic and Environmental Benefits’ organised by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) under the EU-Sri Lanka trade-related assistance project last week.

According to the official, if the draft policy is approved by the Cabinet, it will be presented in Parliament for enactment. The policy focuses on the use and import of chemicals and its sustainable management to minimise health and environmental hazards.

“Sri Lanka is not a big manufacturer of chemicals but large quantities are being imported for various sectors which makes it all the more important to manage the usage sustainably to minimise health and ecological risks,” Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry Director, Dhammika Wijesinghe said.

The draft policy will also comprise regulations on imported chemical inspection, labeling, transportation, storage and hazardous facilities management. The national policy on chemical management initiated by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment is supported by the United Nations and the International Council of Chemical Association.

“There has been interest shown on sustainable chemical management in Sri Lanka with commitment from various sectors which is an incentive to get the draft legislation enacted expeditiously,” Wijesinghe said.

Sri Lanka is signatory to the Basel, Stockholm, Rotterdam and Minamata conventions.

However, Sri Lanka faces many issues related to chemical management. According to a survey, certain chemicals are not regulated, difficulties in tracing chemicals due to the lack of a data base, smuggling and illegal trafficking of chemicals, use of chemicals for different purposes deviating from the original declaration, inadequate infrastructure for disposing of waste and treatment facilities are not operated properly.

“The single window regulatory system is a good thing but still gaps exist in coordination among regulatory authorities,” Wijesinghe said, adding that Sri Lanka’s the Joint Declaration with other countries will help create a framework for various countries to partner in the effort to manage chemical usage sustainably.

Sri Lanka joined the global chemical leasing (ChL) declaration in 2018 with Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Colombia and Serbia.

Chemical leasing is an innovative service-oriented business model for the sound and efficient use of chemicals. The business model is centred around a unit of payment which is no longer related to the chemical itself but to the benefit of the chemical. The payment is made not for the tons of cleaning agent used but for the number of products or area cleaned.

UNIDO plays a leading role for the implementation and continuous development of chemical leasing around the world.

National Cleaner Production Centre (NCPC) CEO Samantha Kumarasena said the chemical leasing approach incentivizes the producer to sell the functions performed by the chemical while the customer pays for the benefits and not the substance itself. Thereby the customer avoids buying more than what he requires.

“We have learnt that since 2002, chemical usage issues have become acute than resource efficiency in factories. We have witnessed poor chemical safety performance during field assessments and have learnt that chemical consumption and the number of safety related incidents have increased,” Kumarasena said.

However, research shows that traditional business models are fuelling the unnecessary consumption of chemicals and the generation of hazardous waste. Traditional business models have contradictory motivations with suppliers focusing on ‘more is better’ and consumer ‘less is more’. The chemical leasing models bundle motivations with suppliers and customers both being convinced that ‘less is more’. In the ChL model, the producer does not only provide the chemical but also the know-how on how to reduce consumption. The responsibility of the producer does not end with selling the chemical. He remains responsible for the chemical during the entire product life cycle, its use and disposal. Traditionally, the customer is responsible for the disposal and recycling of chemicals. This responsibility is passed on to the supplier.

Agriculture, wastewater treatment, printing and paint are some of the leading sectors the ChL model could be applied. ChL is vital for agriculture due to the high agro-chemical usage and its cost. Local farmers use more than the recommended levels of fertilizer due to lack of knowledge. Large quantities of inorganic fertilser is applied to soil without testing. Lack of proper equipment for application has resulted in hap hazard use of chemicals to fields.

Prof. Ajith de Alwis of the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Moratuwa said Sri Lanka uses excessive chemicals due to fertiliser subsidies offered to farmers and this has resulted in ecological issues. “The North Central Province has been plagued with the chronic kidney disease for decades with no exact reason found for it yet. Sri Lanka has been traditionally an agricultural economy and it is not easy to make changes to old practices. The ChL model focuses on using less chemicals but still achieving one’s target,” Prof. de Alwis said. 

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