Press release: 14 June 2019

ClientEarth appeals EU ruling that paves the way for a toxic circular economy

ClientEarth is challenging an EU court ruling that is opening a loophole making it easier for toxic waste to be used to manufacture new products in the EU, putting human health and the environment at risk.

On 4 April, the General court of the European Union refused to annul an EU decision allowing the recycling of plastics containing the hormone-disrupting chemical DEHP.

DEHP, a plastic-softening chemical used to make PVC items, is recognised as being of ‘very high concern’ under EU law due to being a hormone-disrupting substance toxic for human reproduction. Exposure has also been associated with obesity, altered neurodevelopment, and immunological disorders such as allergies, asthma and eczema.

Lawyers from environmental law charity ClientEarth say the judgment being challenged today undermines the REACH Regulation – the main EU rules on chemicals – and its objective to protect people and the environment against dangerous chemicals.

ClientEarth chemicals lawyer Alice Bernard said: “The REACH Regulation is meant to put the responsibility on industry to generate and provide the necessary information regarding the risk of using their products. This is now called into question by this judgment, in clear contradiction with the law.

“This law is also meant to ensure that companies replace these particularly concerning chemicals with safer alternatives, when those become available. It is not meant to prolong the exposure of people and the environment from these dangerous chemicals by contaminating recycling streams.”

In addition, this judgment limits unduly the ability of environmental organisations to challenge illegal EU decisions.

Access to the EU courts is already extremely limited. Because environmental organisations cannot challenge Commission decisions directly before the EU courts, ClientEarth had to first go through an administrative review procedure, which consists of requesting the Commission to ‘review’ its own decision on DEHP. Only then could it challenge the Commission’s refusal in Court.

The judgment raises even more barriers by making it unnecessarily complex and difficult to obtain a ruling from the Court that the initial decision on DEHP was illegal.

ClientEarth environmental democracy lawyer Anne Friel said: “This judgment confirms that the administrative review procedure, which is supposed to compensate for not-for-profit organisations’ lack of direct access to the EU courts, is insufficient.

“The objective of administrative review is to allow NGOs to challenge Commission decisions that violate EU environmental rules, such as REACH. Yet, with this judgment, the Court has confirmed that it does not let NGOs challenge the decision of the Commission to authorize DEHP. It only looks at how the Commission responded to the NGO’s request. This is not effective access to justice.”


Notes to editors:
  • 5 August 2016 : ClientEarth makes a ‘request for internal review’ against the Commission’s decision giving plastics recyclers VinyLoop Ferrera, Steena Recycling and Plastic Planet the permission to “use” DEHP
  • 17 February 2017 : ClientEarth launches a legal challenge at the General Court of the European Union
  • 4 April 2019 : The General Court refuses to annul the authorization of DEHP
  • 14 June 2019 : ClientEarth appeals the General Court’s decision before the Court of Justice of the European Union
About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.