Chemicals production and consumption statistics
Data extracted in November 2021.
Planned article update: November 2022.
The consumption of chemicals hazardous to health in the EU was 230 million tonnes in 2020.
Relative to the total production of chemicals in the EU, chemicals hazardous to human health are produced in lower amounts since about 2010 onwards.
Production of chemicals, EU, 2004–2020
This article presents an analysis of indicators that have been developed and compiled by Eurostat , covering the production and consumption of industrial chemicals with a particular focus on substances being hazardous to human health or hazardous to the environment. The indicators represent the level of production and consumption in quantity terms but not the actual risks associated with the use of chemicals; i.e. production and consumption data do not describe the exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Total production of chemicals
Figure 1 shows the development of EU chemicals production since 2004 (index 2004 = 100) for three groupings: (a) total production of industrial chemicals, which have been evaluated (b) chemicals hazardous to the environment, and (c) substances hazardous to human health (toxic chemicals). The total production of industrial chemicals in the EU increased from the year 2004 to 2007, rising overall by about 4 % to peak at 314 million tonnes in 2007. During the financial and economic crisis, production fell in 2008 and reached a minimum in 2009. The rebound in activity in 2010 was almost as big as the decrease reported in 2009. In 2011, the production of chemicals in the EU decreased again and then decreased only slightly during the period 2011–2015, which was still below the pre-crisis peak in 2007. In 2017, for the first time since 2010, there was a noticeable increase of more than 10 million tonnes. The production of industrial chemicals was largely concentrated in Western Europe.
Production of chemicals hazardous to health
Figure 2 presents the development of EU production of chemicals hazardous to human health shown as an index in Figure 1, analysed according to five hazard classes. The pattern of production for chemicals hazardous to health followed a trend similar to the one observed for chemicals hazardous to the environment. Production reached a peak in 2005 and another relative peak in 2007, after which there was a significant decline in production (that coincided with the financial and economic crisis), followed by a strong rebound in 2010. In 2011, the production of chemicals hazardous to health decreased again, and continued to decrease to a low in 2015. This was followed by a new increase with a peak in 2017.
The EU production of chemicals hazardous to health (all five hazard classes together) reached a relative peak of 240 million tonnes in 2007. Production fell in 2008 and further in 2009 The rebound in activity in 2010 was almost as big as the decrease reported in 2009 but was followed by further reductions in 2011. Since then production of chemicals hazardous to health slightly decreased until 2015. As a result, the EU level of production of chemicals hazardous to health in 2015 was about 205 million tonnes. The subsequent increase resulted in a level of 219 million tonnes in 2017 and 221 million tonnes in 2020, about 14 million tonnes less than in 2004.
The share of all chemicals hazardous to health in total EU chemicals production remained on a roughly constant level over the period under consideration shown in Figure 2. From about 78 % in 2004, the share of all chemicals hazardous to health fell to the lowest value of 74 % in 2018. In between, there was the highest share of chemicals hazardous to health in 2008.
EU production of the most hazardous chemicals - carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic (CMR) hazard— hardly changed over the period from 2004 to 2007 and remained at a level between 39 million tonnes and 41 million tonnes. Production fell between 2007 and 2008 to stand at 36 million tonnes. There was a recovery in the level of production of CMRs in 2010 back to a level that was slightly lower to that recorded prior to the financial and economic crisis. From 2010, the level of production of CMR chemicals declined once more to reach about 33 million tonnes by 2015, the lowest level over the whole period from 2004 to 2020. Starting in 2016, production increased again. The relative share of CMR chemicals in total EU chemical production fluctuated between 12 % and 14 % over the period under consideration.
Effective changes in the production of chemicals hazardous to health
Figure 2 above shows the absolute tonnages produced for the five classes of chemicals hazardous to human health over time. It allows to describe time trends for these chemicals. A specific trend (e.g. a decrease of the chemicals hazardous to health) could result from specific measures taken to avoid such chemicals and to replace them by less hazardous ones. On the other hand, a decrease could also be the result of a general decrease in the total production of chemicals, independent whether they are hazardous or not. This cannot be discerned from the data shown in Figure 2. The following Figure 3 shows changes in the production of chemicals hazardous to human health and of chemicals not hazardous to human health relative to the changes in the total production of chemicals. These changes relative to the changes in total chemical production are normalised to the year 2004 and are called „effective changes“. They are based on the same data as Figure 2. Chemicals hazardous to health are shown in turquoise columns, chemicals not hazardous to human health in pink columns. A positive effective change indicates a relative increase of the production of these chemicals, compared to the total production of chemicals. A negative effective change indicates a relative decrease in the production of these chemicals.
Relative to total chemical production, chemicals not hazardous to human health are produced in higher amounts, while chemicals hazardous to human health are produced in lower amounts. While there is some variation between years, the figures show a consistent trend (with the exception of the years 2008 and 2020).
Production of chemicals hazardous to the environment
Figure 4 presents the development of the production of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment, shown as an index in Figure 1, analysed in more detail according to five classes of environmental hazard. The production volume of chemicals with chronic environmental hazard is negligible and not visible in Figure 4. The aggregated production of these five classes in the EU slightly grew between 2004 and 2008 to reach a peak of 91 million tonnes. The production of chemicals hazardous to the environment fell by 15 million tonnes during the next year. As was the case for the overall production of chemicals, there was a strong re-bound in the production of chemicals hazardous to the environment in 2010. During the period 2010–2015 the production of these five classes fell from 85 to 75 million tonnes which is an absolute minimum for the entire reporting period. Starting in 2016, production began to rise again. It reached a new peak in 2017 and, remained at about the same level until 2019. In 2020, production of these five classes decreased again.
In the EU, the share of chemicals hazardous to the environment in the total chemicals production was relatively unchanged over the period 2004–2020, fluctuating between 27 % and 31 %.
Overall, the production of the five different classes of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment declined only slightly (3.5 million tonnes) from 2004 to 2020. However, there was a wide degree of variation in the development of production for the five different hazard classes. The largest overall decrease in EU production between 2004 and 2020 was recorded for chemicals with significant chronic environmental hazard (as the production volume was reduced by about 21 %). In contrast, an increase was recorded for chemical with significant acute environmental hazard.
Total consumption of chemicals
The consumption indicators build on the results of the production indicators. Consumption volumes result by adding the net import to the production volumes of the chemicals. While the production figures of the individual chemicals remain relatively constant over time, the import / export figures vary considerably.
Figure 5 shows the development of EU chemicals consumption since 2004, calculated as indices of the total consumption of industrial chemicals, of chemicals hazardous to the environment, and of chemicals hazardous to human health. The total consumption of industrial chemicals in the EU – similar to the total production in Figure 1 – increased between 2004 and 2007, peaking at 334 million tonnes in 2007. During the financial and economic crisis, consumption fell in 2008 and further in 2009. The rebound in activity in 2010 was almost as big as the decrease reported in 2009. In 2011, the consumption of chemicals in the EU decreased again and remained relatively stable during the period 2011–2016. Starting in 2017, consumption increased again; however, in 2020 it was still approximately 32 million tonnes below the pre-crisis peak in 2007.
Consumption of chemicals hazardous to health
Figure 6 shows the apparent consumption of chemicals hazardous to health, by toxicity, during 2004–2020. Differences between the consumption and production are relatively small. Net trade added between 2 % and 5 % (between 4 million tonnes and 12 million tonnes; excluding the year 2017) to the sum of the production of the five classes of chemicals hazardous to health. A net import surplus occured for each year except in 2017. In 2017, net trade resulted in an export surplus of about 2 million tonnes.
The apparent consumption indicator shows similar figures to the indicator on the production of chemicals hazardous to health, see Figure 2. In general, the production of chemicals within the EU is the most important contribution for the apparent consumption figures (compared to the export and import of chemicals).
Consumption of chemicals hazardous to the environment
Figure 7 shows the apparent consumption of chemicals hazardous to the environment, by toxicity, during 2004–2020. Over the period from 2004 to 2015, differences between the consumption and the production of chemicals are between 0 % and 3 % and the consumption is always higher than the production; thus a net import surplus occurs. The apparent consumption indicator shows very similar values to the indicator on the production of chemicals hazardous to the environment, see Figure 4. Differences between consumption and production, however, occured in 2017 and 2018. In 2017 and 2018, a considerable net export of chemicals hazardous to the environment occured. Net export in 2017 substracted about 10 million tonnes or 12 % from the sum of the production of the five classes of chemicals hazardous to the environment, see Figure 4 (hazardous to the environment).
Source data for tables and graphs
The production indicators presented in this article are derived from annual statistics on the production of manufactured goods (Prodcom). In addition, the consumption indicators integrate data on imports and exports from COMEXT (EUROSTAT’s reference database for international trade). The evaluation of both (PRODCOM and COMEXT) is based on publicly available data. The consumption is calculated according to the equation: Consumption = production + imports – exports
Data for the EU aggregate are only available from reference year 2004 onwards. The information presented on the production and consumption of chemicals hazardous to the environment and of chemicals hazardous to health has been compiled from detailed production statistics and import/export statistics. As well as the total figures, each of these aggregates is available with a division into five hazard classes: these classes of aquatic environmental impacts and toxicity to human health follow official classifications in EU legislation based on scientific expert judgement. It should be noted that the indicators do not describe the actual risks associated with the use of chemicals, but instead their level of production in quantity terms. Indeed, production and consumption are not synonymous with exposure, as some chemicals are handled in closed systems, or as intermediate goods in controlled supply chains. With the introduction of the CLP regulation (Regulation (EC) 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures), the classification system for the indicators was updated according to the classification of substances under the CLP regulation.
For the indicator on chemicals hazardous to the environment, chemicals are divided into five classes based on their hazard on the aquatic environment, see Figure 4. An analysis of the production and consumption of chemicals hazardous to the environment can be used to monitor any developments in shifting from more harmful to less harmful chemicals. The classification focuses on aquatic toxicity and seeks to take into account the inherent ecotoxicity of chemical substances. Special attention is given to bioaccumulation and persistency.
Chemicals hazardous to health are divided into five toxicity classes, see Figure 2. An analysis of the production and consumption of chemicals hazardous to human health can be used to monitor any developments in shifting production from more to less chemicals hazardous to health and thereby address an important objective of REACH: to reduce risks through the substitution of hazardous by less hazardous substances.
In 2009, in collaboration with the Directorates General of the European Commission responsible for enterprise and industry and for the environment, Eurostat published a baseline study providing a set of indicators to monitor the effectiveness of the REACH Regulation. In 2012, Eurostat released an update of this study as well as a summary. In 2017, the 10 years update of the REACH Baseline Study has been released by the European Commission, DG Growth.
The General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 — also referred to as the 7th Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) — guides the EU’s environment policy up to 2020. It contains proposals for further actions that promote the implementation of REACH and aims to develop — by 2018 — a ‘Union strategy for a non-toxic environment’ that is conducive to innovation and the development of sustainable substitutes including non-chemical solutions, building on cross-cutting measures to be undertaken by 2015 to ensure:
- the safety of manufactured nanomaterials and materials with similar properties;
- the minimisation of exposure to endocrine disruptors;
- appropriate regulatory approaches to address combination effects of chemicals; and
- the minimisation of exposure to chemicals in products, including inter alia imported products, with a view to promoting non-toxic material cycles and reducing indoor exposure to harmful substances.
The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development decided to launch a process to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In June 2014, an Open Working Group of the General Assembly issued a proposal including 17 goals and 169 targets, for adoption by the UN General Assembly on 25-27 September 2015.
Three targets in the proposal call for action in areas related to the production and consumption of chemicals. These are target 3.9: "By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination", under Goal 3 "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being across all ages"; target 6.3 "By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and increasing recycling and safe reuse by [x] per cent globally" (where the "x" is to be defined at a later stage), under Goal 6 "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all"; and target 12.4 "By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment", under Goal 12 "Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns".
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was agreed in 2015 and is a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity“, according to its preamble. It provides a window of opportunity to drive transformative changes in the chemicals and waste sector to move towards sustainable development. Within these processes, intense discussions and clarifications are taking place about the question of what contributions can be made by the chemical industry to support the Sustainable Development Goals. The strong limitations of non-sustainable chemistry are clearly visible now. The recent challenges require a new way of thinking about chemicals and a new way to handle them. A holistic approach is necessary to realise the benefits of chemicals for societies in reaching the SDGs – and to prevent the negative impacts of chemicals along their life cycle. This holistic approach is called “sustainable chemistry” (Blum et al. 2017; UNEP 2018). Such an approach should take into account the three dimensions of sustainable development, preventive measures, and the entire life cycle of a chemical (design, production, use and disposal).
Direct access to
- Environment (t_env)
- Chemicals (t_env_chm)
- Consumption of chemicals by hazardousness - EU 28 (sdg_12_10)
- Chemicals (t_env_chm)
- Chemical (env_chem), see:
- Production and consumption of chemicals by hazard class (env_chmhaz)
- Environment, see
- Hazardous substances
- Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe — Statistical book 2010
- The REACH baseline study – 10 years up-date – November 2016
- The REACH baseline study — 5 years up-date — Comprehensive study report — 2012
- The REACH baseline study — 5 years up-date — Summary report — 2012
- The REACH baseline study — A methodology to set the baseline for REACH and monitor its implementation, June 2009
- The REACH baseline study — A tool to monitor the new EU policy on chemicals — Statistics in focus 48/2009
- Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures; GHS is the abbreviation of the Global Harmonized System.
- Summaries of EU legislation: Classification, packaging and labelling of chemical substances and mixtures