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Step 3. Identify alternatives

By the time you know what chemical to phase out, it's time to identify possible alternatives. In this section we will guide you through the concept of Alternatives Assessment, different substitution strategies, tools to identify the function for the chemical of concern and how you can use positive lists to identify alternatives.

3.1 The basics to Alternatives Assessment

An alternatives assessment is a process that can be used to achieve informed substitution. The frameworks guide through the identification, comparison and implementation of safer alternatives. You can avoid regrettable substitution by striving for informed substitution. Regrettable substitution can and have happened when the chosen alternative is equally bad or worse from a health, environmental or functional perspective. One example of regrettable substitution  

Alternatives assessment takes root in functional substitution, meaning that you widen your scope from only 1:1 chemical substation, or so-called “Drop-in” substitution to question if the function is even needed, or if you can achieve the function in a non-chemical way by changing method or material.

In this guide we will use principles from Alternatives Assessment in steps 3 and 4. If you want more information you can visit the website OECD Substitution and Alternatives assessment toolbox. Several stakeholders have developed frameworks and guidelines on how to implement Alternatives assessment into your organization.

Go to the Alternatives Assessment Toolbox

3.2 Different substitution strategies

Substitution strategys

Let us illustrate the different substitution strategies with an example.

Eliminate the need of the function: A company decides there is no need for “Anti-bacterial” marketing for sport clothing since the risk of nano silver is resistant bacteria and the environmental faith is hard to mitigate. The company develops a new marketing strategy.

Change process/technique: Medicines are necessary but pose a risk when they are released into the environment for organisms and drinking water. A closed process when producing medicine can be used to reduce complicated purification of wastewater.

Change product design: Furniture needs to have some flame-retardant properties, but it must not be achieved with high concentrations of flame-retardant in the upholstery with known risks to the environment and health. An alternative might be to use a flammable material under the surface textile.

Change material: You currently use melamine in your plates, but to reduce chemical emissions, switch to light porcelain.

Change chemical: The solvent in your product is classified as cancerogenic, you replace it with another chemical solvent without the hazard classification.  

Tips! Contact the Substitution Center if you need guidance on which strategy is appropriate for your substitution question.

3.3 Characterization of chemical

Regardless of strategy, you need to understand what function the unwanted substance has, in your particular product and material, in order to explore alternatives. A chemical can have several functional areas, for example, depending on materials, so the substitute for one and the same chemical may not necessarily be the same for different products.

To identify function of the unwanted chemical in your product, you can start by:

  • Ask your supplier
  • Search the web, see suggestions for databases below
  • Ask others in your industry, such as industry associations
  • Contact the Substitution Center for advice

Resources to find functionality for unwanted substances

Below are a number of databases which you can use to identify the function of the unwanted substances in your product. 

  • Registered substances: Scope and function for chemicals are described in ECHA's database of registered topics.
  • SIN-list: Registered function and scope of the substances compiled at Echa can be found for substances on the SIN-list. There is also additional information for potential use and technical function.
  • Flow Analyses: The Swedish Chemicals Agency reports import and export volumes and their use patterns and area.
  • SVHC: The Swedish Chemicals Agency has compiled an Excel file with substances from the Candidate List, their possible function and common products which the chemicals may be present (Swedish). 
  • PRIO-guide: The Swedish Chemicals Agency's web-based tool for working with substitution. The tool can be used to search hazardous substances based on product type and field of application.

3.4 Characterization checklist

What is the function of the chemical?
How and why is the chemical used in the product?
Is the function necessary for the product or process?
Will the upstream or downstream processes in the production chain be affected if the chemical is substituted or removed?
Is it a contaminant / by-product?

3.5 Find safer alternatives

Det är viktigt att flera intressenter involveras tidigt i arbete - för att ta fram en så lång lista som möjligt med alternativ innan ni börjar utesluta något. Bjud in produktdesigners, ingenjörer, produktionsansvarig, inköp, hållbarhetsansvarig och toxikologen om en sådan finns tillgänglig och lägg upp en plan för hur ni ska börja leta alternativ.
Ni har alla olika nätverk och tillgång till unik information. Finns det några skarpa hjärnor internt? Branschorganisationer? Branschtidningar? Leverantörer? Andra företag som löst problemet?
Samordna er undersökning för att sammanställa en så lång lista som möjligt med olika alternativ som ni kan arbeta vidare med.
Sist men inte minst behöver minst en person ge sig ut på nätet och undersöka vad för information som finns tillgänglig där. Nedan har vi listat flera webbaserade resurser som kan användas för att inventera alternativ.

Tips! Kontakta gärna Substitutionscentrum för vägledning i vilka resurser som kan vara relevanta för dig.

3.6 Identify alternatives using positive lists

When you know 1. What chemical to substitute, 2. What function the chemical has and 3. The guidelines for the alternative: You can look for alternatives. Positive lists compile alternatives to undesirable chemicals, materials, processes or products. The alternatives have been reviewed and assessed as better substitutes on the basis of specific assessment criteria, mainly toxicological, which may vary between the lists. The lists are a good tool when choosing better options.

The Swedish Centre for chemical substitution has compiled the "List of positive lists". The compilation of positive lists are divided into chemicals, materials, product design and goods, both general and industry specific. We have used Excel so you can easily sort by industry or function depending on what you are interested in.

Read more and download ”List of positive lists” (Swedish)

3.7 More resources for mapping alternatives

There are other resources which can be used to search for information on alternatives to unwanted chemicals, in addition to positive lists.
Below you can find a summary divided into different categories. 







Case studies




Other resources


3.8 If alternatives are missing

If no alternatives

In the absence of alternatives, you should adopt measures to minimize the risk.

  • Are there measures which can be implemented in the manufacturing process to isolate the risk?
  • Can work procedures be changed to minimize risk?
  • If not, introduce protective equipment for the workforce.

There are also the opportunities to develop new alternatives. The Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution can provide tips and contacts.

Tips! Contact the Substitution Center if you need help with a strategy for inventing possible alternatives for your substitution.


Continue to Step 4: Assess and select alternative 

Nina Melander

Contact person

Nina Melander

Rådgivare Substitutionscentrum

+46 10 516 52 16

Read more about Nina

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