July 2017

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I can't believe the news today | Safer chemicals blog

In his latest blog post, Philippe Vandendaele considers the lead up to the EDC criteria vote

I am undertaking an unusual exercise on a Tuesday morning - I am setting out to write a blog post not really knowing what it is I wish to share. Suspended between what is anticipated and the possible inflection of what could be achieved through the cracks of light emanating from the august Gallic ray of hope personified by the champion of the environment, Nicholas Hulot (Ah les lumières francaise!). I am once again writing about the contentious criteria to define Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).

The reason being that the PAFF Committee (Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed) will meet yet again to discuss, and more importantly, (at the time of writing) to potentiallyvote on the latest iteration of the long-awaited, controversial definition of the EDC criteria. Last week, Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said in a strongly-worded tweet that it would be “against people’s health” if EU member countries failed to vote in favour of a European Commission proposal on endocrine disrupting chemicals after a year of discussions; he added “No more delays possible”. 

Condemned by the General Court of the European Union in December 2015 for its inaction, the European Commission eventually issued its set of criteria on 15th June 2016. The European Commission was under legal obligation to come up with scientific criteria for EDCs by December 2013 - to regulate these harmful chemicals more effectively. The legal obligation came from two sources: Article 5 (3) of the Biocidal Products Regulation (528/2012), and Article 80 (7) of the Pesticides Regulation (1107/2009). Therefore the text submitted yesterday at the PAFF Committee was long overdue, indeed.

One would be tempted to commend the belated zeal of Commissioner Andriukaitis - but I, and many other NGO representatives and eminent scientists, would caution against mistaking activity for achievement. Trust me, I am not indulging in a cheap rhetorical quip; I too would wish to see clear progress on the definition of EDC criteria. Progress, however, is not tantamount to jumping through required regulatory hoops so as to be seen as complying with legal requirements. I think you would all agree that what is adopted should stand up to scrutiny and comply with the precautionary principle – a fundamental principle of EU governing policies related to the environment, health and food safety is enshrined in Article 191 (ex 174 (2)).

In adopting the present criteria, due to time and political pressures, one must be sure that it does not act “against people’s health”, to quote the Health Commissioner. Looking at what is on the table, leaving aside scientific and overly technical discussions for a moment, the bone of contention remains the exactingly high burden of proof that the criteria mandate. 

Whilst most scientists and NGOs push for a definition of these criteria that would capture presumed EDCs (erring on the side of caution - in keeping with the precautionary principle), the European Commission opted for a potentially much narrower definition, requiring that the substance must show an adverse effect. Let me quote from a recent letter sent by the Endocrine Society to the competent EU Member States ministers, where the outstanding issues are clearly and unambiguously stated...

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Madrid goes EDC free

By the end of June the city of Madrid approved a motion with a set of measures to reduce citizen’s exposure to Enocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). The motion was proposed by Ecologistas en Acción and HCWH Europe member Fundación Alborada, around a year ago. After several meetings and months of discussion with politicians of Ahora Madrid and the Socialist Group, as well as with health and environment officers, an agreement was finally made.
The motion was presented by these two groups along with Ciudadanos in the Plenary on 28th of June, and was approved by majority with the only abstention of the Popular Party. Madrid is the capital of Spain and the city with the largest population, with over 3 million inhabitants and is now number 10 in the list of cities joining the EDC-free cities network:
Madrid is now committed:
  1. To limit the use of pesticides and biocides containing EDCs in public places (parks, schools, health centers etc.)
  2. To limit the use of EDCs in public contracts including this limitation as an environmental clause, also avoiding carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) substances.
  3. To reduce the exposure to EDCs through the food, promoting organic food in school canteens and other public services, and avoiding food packaging containing BPA, phtalates, and others.
  4. To inform citizens and to raise awareness about EDCs targeted to vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women, ill people, etc.
  5. To ask the Region of Madrid, the Health Ministry and the Environment Ministry to develop policies to protect our health and to immediately ban EDCs.
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EDCs and declining fertility rates

UK newspaper The Guardian recently published an article, Sperm counts among western men have halved in last 40 years in which a recent study was reviewed and the findings were alarming. According to the latest findings of this study “between 1973 and 2011, the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate of men in western countries has fallen by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%”. Interestingly, the researchers said they were still unclear about the causes of such a drop.

Whilst appropriately cautious in identifying the causes of this decline in fertility, it is worth consulting the work conducted by the Endocrine Society on the effects of endocrine disruptors. The society has been looking into this issue over the years and commented that “since human reproductive processes are similar to those of other species, many pest-control chemicals designed to harm pest reproductive systems also damage people’s reproductive systems” (See: Impact of EDCs of reproductive systems), explicitly linking lower fertility rates to the effects of chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties; such as those used in pesticides and other products.

HCWH Europe has been active in tackling the health issues linked to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), specifically focussing on medical devices. For this reason we have been engaged in the debate on the definition of criteria for EDCs. The European Commission was under a legal obligation to come up with scientific criteria for EDCs by December 2013 so as to regulate these harmful chemicals more effectively. The legal obligations came from two sources, two different Regulations: Article 5 (3) of the Biocidal Products Regulation (528/2012), and Article 80 (7) of the Pesticides Regulation (1107/2009).

After half a decade of procrastination, the European Commission (EC) finally met its legal obligations. At their meeting on 12th of July 2017, EU competent authorities for biocides voted to adopt a regulation that would incorporate the EC’s proposed scientific criteria for identifying EDCs into the biocidal products Regulation. They followed the decision taken a week earlier by a separate committee of member state officials considering pesticides regulation, voting to include the EDC criteria in the Regulation on plant protection products. 

A recent letter, from the Endocrine Society to the competent EU Member State ministers, is critical of the final criteria.

The criteria, as currently constructed, will likely fail to identify EDCs that are currently causing human harm, and will not secure a high level of health and environment protection as required per the Treaty on the European Union (EU). Furthermore, the criteria contain arbitrary exemptions for chemicals specifically designed to disrupt target insect endocrine systems that have similarities to systems in wildlife and humans. Consequently, the criteria cannot be called science‐based, nor can they be considered as “fit for purpose” according to the better regulation strategy, as they lack coherence and will not be effective or efficient. We strenuously object to the addition of loopholes in the criteria. This creates divergent frameworks wherein certain chemicals that are designed to be EDs cannot be defined as EDs in the context of applicable laws.” 

HCWH Europe is also critical of the criteria as adopted: there will be no obligation to replace EDCs that do not meet the exacting level of proof contained in medical devices on the market. This will undoubtedly lower protection for EU citizens; sadly, those most affected by the adverse effects of EDCs are the vulnerable: medical patients, foetuses, small children, and pregnant women.

Both sets of criteria will be submitted to the European Parliament for scrutiny as part of the regulatory procedure with scrutiny applicable to delegated acts. The EP still has a chance to reject these two sets of criteria in the coming two months.

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Climate & Energy

The climate treaty is NOT negotiable

There has been a lot of headline news regarding climate change this summer – it’s sometimes hard to keep up. The one headline that resonated loudest around the world was the USA pulling out of the Paris Agreement - a decision that has sparked international outrage. The global reaction has been unprecedented and unexpectedly reactive – climate change is actually being considered “political enough” to rise to the top of the recent G20 agenda.

World leaders gathered for the G20 Summit in Hamburg on the 7th and 8th of July. Germany played a strong leadership role: affirming that the Paris Agreement is not negotiable, a sentiment that France and Italy firmly supported. The G20 Leaders’ Declaration that followed the Summit states: “The Leaders of the G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible.”

An outcome of the Summit was the adoption of the G20 Climate and Energy Action Plan. This plan supports the Paris Agreement by setting goals to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and to drive countries towards affordable renewable energy systems as soon as possible. The commitment displayed by world leaders during the G20 Summit, as they resisted the efforts of the USA to water down the plan, is a reassuring sign that remaining 19 leaders are well aware of the urgent need to divest from fossil fuels. 

Collectively, G20 countries account for approximately 80% of global GHG emissions, as well as 80% of global GDP. The future is literally in their hands. As terrifying as it may be, in this cynical world, to realise that 20 individuals have the collective power to determine the fate of humanity - we can derive some hope from the attention climate change is being given in international policy discussions, as well as from their alleged commitment to the Paris Agreement. Whether they will demonstrate this same determination in the implementation of these policies is another matter – one we are yet to witness.

The EU’s "leadership role"

Germany and France are playing a key leadership role in the international climate policy debate. Macron has started his presidency positioning France as a strong global leader on climate change, affirming that France will go beyond their climate pledge. Merkel is standing up to the USA’s opposition, and building global confidence that international action on climate change will move forward with or without the Trump administration. At the G20 Summit, Merkel also emphasised the increased importance of EU leadership, and the importance of EU Member States’ cooperation in implementing the Paris Agreement.

National progress is being demonstrated across Europe: The Netherlands is well on its way to meet its 2020 target of cutting emissions by 25% compared to 1990 levels, while Sweden has just passed a historic bill committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2045. Macron announced that France would stop completely the granting of licenses for new oil and gas explorations and has pledged to end sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

The European Union and its 28 Member States make up 12% of global GHG emissions. The EU must guarantee that the same leadership being exerted by some of its Member States is replicated across the entire bloc. Ambitious EU policies are needed to pave the way for all Member States to benefit from the clean energy transition and create opportunities...

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Sustainable Procurement

Strengthening sustainability through procurement


Public procurement represents a huge opportunity to promote sustainable development and the 2030 development agenda – that was one of the key messages from the 2nd Global Procurement Conference. The University of Rome Tor Vergata’s School of Economics organised the conference last week (4th-5th July 2017) at the Center for American Studies in Rome in partnership with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Issues relating to worldwide public procurement were presented by a variety of speakers - experts from regulatory bodies, policy-makers, economists, lawyers, and public procurers. The conference also provided the opportunity for intense and challenging debate with the audience, and underlined the importance of on-going actions surrounding the what, how, and who of purchasing for the public domain.

Session four of the conference considered the relationship between Sustainable Development Goals and Public Procurement. Presented by Mark Hidson -Deputy Regional Director of ICLEI (Local Government for Sustainability, Europe) and Farid Yaker - Programme Officer in charge of sustainable public procurement at UNEP - United Nations Environment Programme.

Public procurement is generally defined as the process of public authorities, such as government departments or local authorities purchasing goods, services, works, and utilities. These purchases often have unseen consequences affecting human and environmental health, as well as social impacts, it is therefore important that public authorities use procurement as an strategic instrument to reduce these impacts. Public procurement can achieve value for money throughout the whole supply chain: reducing negatives impacts on the environment, whilst generating benefits, not only for the organisation, but also to society and the economy - public procurement systems represent an annual expenditure of over $10 trillion, an equivalent of 15% of global GDP.

During the conference it was highlighted how public procurement presents a huge opportunity to promote sustainable development and the 2030 sustainable development agenda; it features in target 12.7: "Promote public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities", and the indicator 12.7.1: "Number of countries implementing sustainable public procurement policies and action plans". 

Public procurement also plays a role in many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets, including, but not limited to: 3.9, 7.2, 8.5, 8.7, 8.8, as well as many sub-targets of goal 12 (12.2, 12.3, 12.4, and 12.5).

There are multiple barriers to use public procurement to achieve the SDGs: legal and policy frameworks - in spite of what it is said public procurement can be a tool for fraud and corruption, market barriers, budgetary constraints, and a lack of training, research, information, and communication. To overcome these challenges and achieve a successful sustainable public procurement, we require a solid policy foundation, top-level leadership support and excellence in implementation.

Sustainability at the international level has become one of the main pillars of ensuring whole supply chains are greener, more efficient, and socially and economically inclusive. Some regions and local governments, however, still need to align their procurement policies with the 2030 development agenda. 

Focusing on the European framework for public procurement, Europe is making slow but progressive efforts to take into account environmental, social, and innovation aspects to boost the economy, and help the transition to a circular economy. Such efforts can be seen in policies for sustainable development, sustainable production and consumption, environmental protection, and for procurement:

To effectively enforce these procurement Directives, EU member states had to transpose them into national laws by 18th April 2016, which has not been fully achieved according to the most recent evaluation by the European Commission...

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2017 Green Pharmacy Conference

The call for posters and registration is open for the 2017 Green Pharmacy Conference. The conference will take place on Friday 27th October at University Medical Centre (UMC), Utrecht. This year's conference theme is 'The environmental cycle of medicines - an incentive for innovation in the human and veterinary medicine chain'.

Chemicals can be found everywhere, and are present in our (drinking) water, the soil, food crops, and in the air. But where do they come from?

Discarded and discharged medicines used for humans and animals and multi-resistant bacteria are also widely dispersed in the environment, and a change is necessary to address the environmental cycle of pharmaceuticals and drug-resistant bacteria.

Medicines, unlike pesticides, cannot easily be banned or even replaced. The healthcare sector and universities are therefore looking for solutions to this challenge. During this one-day conference, solutions will be presented and discussed and Utrecht UMC will also demonstrate their work in this area.

Click here to read more about this year's conference.

HCWH Europe members should also note that they are eligible for a €100 discount on their conference fee, register here.

During the conference (student) researchers, institutes, and companies will also have the opportunity to present their work by means of a poster display. More information about this is available here.

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Food waste in healthcare: European policy and national initiatives


On the 27th June, HCWH Europe organised a workshop Food waste in healthcare: European policy and national initiatives, kindly hosted in the European Parliament by MEP Davor Škrlec (Greens). The workshop provided an overview of the on-going policy developments at both the EU and international levels to prevent and reduce food waste. Member State initiatives on preventing and reducing food waste in the healthcare sector from Ireland, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom were explored, and best practices on how hospitals and other healthcare facilities have implemented food waste prevention and reduction strategies were showcased.

 A report of the workshop is now available on the HCWH Europe website, including the featured presentations:

Preventing and reducing food waste has become a global priority; one third of food produced in the world – approximately 1.3 billion tons – is wasted every year. This misuse of valuable resources has a significant impact on the environment, economy, health, and society as a whole.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 calls for an ambitious target to halve global food waste per capita by 2030. The European Institutions are debating the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, in which the European Parliament has proposed to include a food waste definition, food waste targets, and a food waste hierarchy. The European Commission is also working towards developing a methodology for EU Member States to prevent and reduce food waste in various sectors, from retail to consumption. In this political context, not much attention has been given to the healthcare sector, even though in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, food waste is actually higher than in other food service sectors. 

The healthcare sector faces unique challenges compared to other food preparation services e.g. food waste in hospitals may result from the need to create customised dietary options based on the patients’ conditions, patients’ appetite challenges, or from the unpredictable number of patients and visitors. There is also the problem of extended hours of service and different snack and meal times. These factors combined make food waste reduction in hospitals a complex issue that needs to be tackled. It requires technical expertise, careful execution, and the involvement of staff and patients. Despite these challenges, food waste reduction in healthcare is possible and can offer cost savings that hospitals can use in procuring higher-quality, healthy, and sustainable food.

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Global Green and Healthy Hospitals

GGHH Member Spotlight | Hospital de Guadarrama, Madrid, Spain


On the 4th and 5th of May 2017, the HCWH Europe Annual General Meeting (AGM) and GGHH Europe Members Meeting took place at Vivantes Klinikum Neukölln in Berlin. (Read more here)

Representatives from Hospital de Guadarrama, a 140 bed hospital located in Madrid (Spain) that has been a GGHH member since 2014, attended the meeting and shared their strategies and projects to reduce the environmental footprint of their facility.

Watch their Member Spotlight interview (in Spanish) to learn more about their facility and approaches to sustainable health care:

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