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European Parliament committee votes to clean up weak EU Detergents Regulation, but overlooks chemicals

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A better Detergents Regulation is possible, with the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee voting today for a stronger revised law than the European Commission had proposed back in April 2023. However, more efforts are needed to limit the use of chemicals that are harmful to health.

The European Parliament has provided a path to improve on the European Commission’s proposal for a revised EU Detergents Regulation [1]. The tabled text was not up to the task of cleaning up the sector but the ENVI Committee’s report, approved by a large majority of MEPs, proposes to better protect the environment from harmful substances.

However, the ENVI Committee has failed to act on chemicals, calling for more research instead of concrete measures. Research should not be used to delay action when abundant studies already exist on negative health effects caused by substances in detergents.

Cleaning products should not cost us our health
Used to wash clothes, dishes, and surfaces, we encounter detergents every day. However, many of them contain harmful substances, such as allergens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that interfere with how our hormones work [2]. Regrettably, the ENVI Committee report is not ambitious enough to address these health-related problems.

There is a more positive outcome regarding the environmental impacts caused by many detergents. Detergents that contain phosphorus and phosphates contribute to ‘dead zones’ in bodies of water, lowering oxygen levels and decreasing water quality [3]. Those wrapped in plastic also release destructive microplastics into the environment [4]. The ENVI Committee report opens the door to addressing these issues.

Solutions to many of these problems already exist – as do less harmful detergents, facilitated at the European level by an EU Ecolabel for cleaning products [5]. Widespread uptake of better detergents could happen if some of Ecolabel's criteria were applied to more products [5]. Although the ENVI Committee’s report provides an opportunity to move in this direction, improvements are still needed.

Next stop: plenary
The European Commission did not go far enough in its proposal, so it is encouraging that the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee has raised the ambition of the EU Detergents Regulation in certain areas. Environmental NGO ECOS hopes to see a positive plenary vote on this report at the end of February. However, gaps remain due to the lack of ambition to phase out harmful chemicals such as endocrine disruptors; this must still be addressed.

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Emily Best, Programme Manager at ECOS - Environmental Coalition on Standards, said:
The ENVI Committee has taken steps to eliminate polluting substances from the EU Detergents Regulation, but we regret that chemicals harming our health have been overlooked. Efforts to keep our clothes, dishes, and surfaces clean should not come at the expense of our health, water quality, or environment. There are already viable, undamaging products on the market – and an EU Ecolabel with guidelines to produce them – so there is no need to delay action or invent anything new.


[1] Proposal for an EU Detergents Regulation, European Commission, April 2023: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/docs_autres_institutions/commission_europeenne/com/2023/0217/COM_COM(2023)0217_EN.pdf

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0147651322005176

[3] https://www.health.belgium.be/en/effect-detergents-environment

[4] ECOS asks on detergents, ECOS, January 2024: https://ecostandard.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/2024-01-12-Detergents-position-paper.pdf

[5] https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/circular-economy/eu-ecolabel-home/product-groups-and-criteria/cleaning_en

[6] Joint Letter ‘Amendments to the EU Detergent Regulation’, NGO coalition (including ECOS), January 2024: https://ecostandard.org/publications/joint-letter-eu-detergents/
 

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