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How to substitute?

Substituting substances is not necessarily a simple replacement of one chemical with another. You need to do your homework and there is no "one size fits all". Methods that work in one company may not work for your product or process. One approach you can use to address your substitution challenge is functional substitution, where you consider the specific function of the substance and how it could be met by alternatives in a broad sense – covering not only the substance itself but also aspects such as production techniques and product design. You may also need to try several alternatives before you find the best one. In your assessment, beyond the consideration of the hazard, exposure, technical performance and economic aspects, it is important to also look at wider effects, where these are relevant, such as energy and resource use, waste, recycling and socio-economic impacts. If you choose to develop a brand new product, consider an approach that takes into account safety and sustainability across its entire lifecycle. 


Once you have prioritised your substances and selected some of them as candidates for substitution, it is time to look for potential alternatives. Setting the scope of the substitution project is critical given that this is the step where you determine:

(a) the level of stakeholder engagement you intend to undertake;
(b) the goals and principles underlying the project; and
(c) decision criteria on which alternative to choose.

Setting the scope of the substitution project also involves establishing boundaries for the assessment. This helps to focus resources and outline a plan to assess alternatives, including planning which health effects, exposure pathways, life cycle segments, and technical functionality/performance attributes need to be considered.

As a first step, you should carefully consider if there is a real need for the technical functionality provided by the substance of concern and/or if there are other ways of achieving the same goal. For example, do you really need to provide your customers with a printed receipt that may contain hazardous ink developers, or would an electronic receipt be a suitable alternative? As you think of possible safer alternatives, look into your options more widely, such as the substances, techniques and product designs that you could use.


Information about substances


General resources on substitution and analysis of alternatives
  • OECD Substitution toolbox: A compilation of resources relevant to chemical substitution and alternatives assessments.
  • SUBSPORT: Alternative substances and technologies, with tools and guidance for substance evaluation and substitution management.
  • Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI): The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell provides resources and tools to help businesses, municipalities, and communities in Massachusetts find safer alternatives to toxic chemicals.
  • European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA): EU-OSHA provides a number of resources in relation to chemicals at the workplace, including on their substitution.


Online platforms for looking for safer alternatives

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