Eco-label rules for hairsprays to rule out most aerosols

The EC's eco-labelling scheme seems set to give a new push to sales of hairsprays which do not contain hydrocarbon propellants. Hairspray producers will also be put under pressure to reduce material consumption in dispensers and increase their recycled content and recyclability.

Hairsprays are one of the product groups for which the UK has been appointed to develop eco-labelling criteria under the EC scheme. The criteria will be based on a study carried out by the Chem Systems consultancy into the life-cycle environmental impacts of hairsprays.

Two meetings of a working group attended by officials from other Member States and industry representatives have already been held to discuss Chem Systems' proposals. A third is due next January when it is hoped to agree draft criteria for submission to the European Commission.

Chem Systems' assessment concluded that emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) dominate the environmental impacts caused by hairsprays. It recommended that they should have a VOC content of no more than 0.8 kilograms per equivalent pump litre to qualify for an eco-label.

The unit used in this primary criterion was devised to permit comparisons of aerosols and pumps. Few data on the amount of hairspray used by consumers with these different application methods are available, but Chem Systems drew on a Californian study to propose that one pump litre of formulation in a finger pump should be considered as equivalent to 1.5 litres in an aerosol.

The 0.8 kilogram VOC threshold would allow pumps to qualify for an eco-label. These currently have a market share of about 10%.

No aerosols containing hydrocarbon propellants would qualify unless the manufacturers could show that they had an equivalent pump litre ratio of 1.2:1 or better when compared to pumps. In other words, consumers would have to be shown to use 20% less spray with the product than suggested by the Californian data.

Aerosols containing non-condensed propellants such as carbon dioxide would probably meet the VOC criterion as well, although none are on the market as yet.

Other criteria proposed by Chem Systems would exclude all hydrocarbons from hairspray formulations except those in the lowest of four categories indicating their ozone creation potential, any ozone-depleting chemicals - although these are no longer used in hairsprays - and components with a significant global warming potential. This would preclude the future use of HFCs, a novel group of CFC substitutes, as aerosol propellants.

Three types of criteria were also proposed to minimise the environmental impacts associated with hairspray packaging. One set is based on weight limits for each packaging material. For typical-sized dispensers, only pumps - which are made from polyethylene - around half the tinplate aerosols and none made from aluminium would qualify.

Secondly, minimum contents of recycled material were proposed for each packaging material. These range from 5% for polyethylene, 25% for tinplate, and between 0-100% for aluminium, depending on the weight of the dispenser.

Thirdly, 80% of a dispenser would have to be recyclable before it could qualify for an eco-label.

There have been industry grumbles about some of these criteria. Aerosol producers, for example, do not want to preclude the use of HFC-152a at this stage on the grounds of its global warming potential.

However, two principal issues remain to be resolved. One of these is the lack of an agreed method of testing consumer usage of hairsprays. This is likely to be important for products at the borderline of the criteria.

The second is how to determine a hairspray's "fitness for use" - a criterion which all product groups in the EC scheme must pass. Chem Systems' proposals were that a product could be judged fit for use either after it had sold successfully in its first three months on the market, or alternatively be evaluated by an independent expert.

The working group's discussions on this issue have yet to yield a solution, since all the tests which have been used by hairspray producers to date are subjective. A French offer to devise a scheme based on criteria such as spray drying time and holding power which could be used in a standard test procedure has been accepted with some scepticism.

Although it may take more than one more working group meeting to finalise the criteria, the progress achieved to date must be causing some concern to aerosol producers. The UK has already been invited by the Commission to develop criteria for deodorants and anti-perspirants, and there is little reason to suppose that hydrocarbon propellants will be any more acceptable in these groups than in hairsprays.

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