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Support Document to the Notice of Intent

6.0 Situation in the European Union

The approach by the European Union to the limitation of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions from organic solvents is addressed under European Union Council Directive 1999/13/EC (effective March 11, 1999). The Directive, which each member country was required to bring into force within their respective jurisdictions by April 2001, is aimed at reducing emissions from solvents used in selected activities. The 20 activities targeted for control are, for the most part, consistent with ones identified in Canada and the US as significant sources of VOC emissions (e.g., printing, surface coating, surface cleaning, vehicle coating).

For each of the activities, a minimum consumption limit is specified for the purpose of identifying applicable processes. In general, activities operated above this consumption threshold will need to either:

  • meet an emissions limit value in waste gases and a fugitive emission value; or
  • meet the total emission limit value; or
  • implement a solvent reduction scheme to reduce emissions from the installation equal to those that would be achieved by meeting the total emission limit value.

New processes and installations had to meet compliance requirements on or before April 2001 and existing facilities have to be in compliance on or before October 31, 2007. To ensure compliance with requirements of the Directive, affected facilities are required to provide solvent throughput information in the form of a solvent management plan.

Until recently, the European Union had not implemented mandatory requirements for VOC content in consumer and commercial products. Instead, the strategy had been to use a general eco-labelling regulation which has been in place since 1992 to facilitate the supply and demand of greener products. To date, more than 80 indoor paints and varnishes are allowed to display the European Union eco-label, meaning that the respective manufacturers have to voluntarily meet stringent environmental criteria including maximum VOC content. Other solvent-containing consumer products under study for eco-labelling are cleaning products and hair sprays.

In January 2003, the European Commission presented a proposal to set European Union-wide limits on solvent content in paints, varnishes, and vehicle refinishing products. The legislative proposal has now been approved by the European Parliament, with some amendments to the content limits. The proposal, however, still must be approved by the European Union Council of Ministers.

The proposed requirements will come into effect in two phases. The first phase will apply from January 1, 2007; while the second phase will apply from January 1, 2010. (For vehicle refinishing products there will only be one phase which will apply from January 1, 2007.) Limit values for decorative paints in Phase I will range from 50 g/L for waterborne primers to 750 g/L for some special solvent-borne primers. For Phase II, limit values will be further lowered significantly for most categories. These measures, when fully implemented within the European Union, will reduce the VOC content of the specified products by 50% (280 000 tonnes). This product-oriented approach, similar to that of the US, was seen as offering the best guarantees of attaining European Union environmental aims for ground-level ozone.