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Step 4. Assess and select alternatives

What is regrettable substitution and how do you set criteria for alternatives? The alternative you choose should have equivalent or better function than the substance you want to substitute, have lower risk but also be accessible, energy-efficient and financially sound. 

4.1 Avoid regrettable substitution

The challenge of substitution is not to choose an alternative that is equally hazardous or worse than the topic you are replacing. The substitute should not have insufficient function which can lead to short shelf life or be unreliable. One way of working can be to do an initial screening of the alternatives, to exclude alternatives which are undesirable from a toxicological point of view, and proceed with technical and economic verification

An initial screening should exclude all alternatives that do not meet the internal criteria you defined in Step 3 for unwanted alternatives. If you have found an alternative in a positive list, match the criteria behind the list to your own to assure your standard. If the list does not take into account hormone-disrupting substances, but you see it as a high priority within your organization, then further research is needed.

Procedures for avoiding unhealthy substitution

  1. Lists: Exclude the topic from the lists in Step 2.2 and on the company's own restriction list.
  2. Structure: Exclude that the alternative has any results in the tool SINimilarity from Chemsec. The tool compares whether a substance is structurally similar to unwanted topics on the list. Structurally similar substances may have similar undesirable properties but may be overlooked because the substances are not regulated yet.
  3. Monitor: Tools like Chemycal can be used to check if there is any global news or reporting for the alternative. If the alternative is not mentioned, the result can be used as a supplement to rule out that the alternative is an undesirable substance.
  4. Data: The tool Pharos can be used to get an overview of lacking data points for toxicology. The alternative may not be appropriate if there is no information on ecotoxicology and the product is used in the environment. Too quick substitution to alternatives with insufficient data can lead to regrettable substitution - no data does not equal safety. 
  5. Computer Modeling: [Advanced]. In the absence of data, tools can be used to model undesirable properties based on molecular structure. PBT-profiler, for example, can be used to model whether a substance may be persistent, bio accumulative and toxic.

4.2 Resources for comparing alternatives

Below is a compilation of various resources that can be used to compare and assess the chemical risk of alternatives.

Frameworks and guides

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Automated tools

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Educations

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Templates

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Tools

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4.3 Verification of function

Hopefully you now have a list of fewer options and that have no known unwanted properties which you decided to exclude. It is time for verification of function, technology and economy. Other aspects that can play a role are the life cycle perspective, circular economy, waste management, financial availability and more.

There is an infinite variety of functions and technical specifications. Those who work in your particular industry are the ones with the greatest knowledge. When it comes to verification of function, it is important that you involve the right people during the right steps.  

Map function

  • Based on the desired function, make a list of relevant parameters that can be evaluated qualitatively or quantitatively for the alternatives.
  • Define a rating scale for each relevant parameter, quantitative, qualitative or "acceptable/unacceptable".
  • Gather as much information as you can about the topic or option's properties.
Examples of questions when verifying function
Can function requirements be downgraded to broaden the possibilities for safer alternatives?
What are the most important primary and secondary characteristics?
Are there any legal requirements for function, e.g. flame protection?
What is the customer's requirement for technical specification?
Can the substitute be communicated to customers as a positive change?
What are the requirements for longevity and quality?

Tips! Feel free to contact the Swedish Centre for Chemical Substitution for help in finding a laboratory or testbed that can verify alternatives. We may also recommend projects or initiate projects to develop new alternatives.


4.4 Economic verification

A substitute must be available on the market and be economically feasible. The economic benefits of spending short term money on substitution and thus getting a higher market price is that you can in the long run; reduce costs for handling and waste of hazardous chemicals, get more efficient and cheaper production processes, increase the quality and attractiveness of the product on the market.

In a Nielsen Global Survey survey, 55% of consumers in over 60 countries, especially younger consumers, responded that they are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that work with sustainable practices.

    Tools for financial verification of substitutes

    Kemi in Kredslöb was a Danish organization that worked to promote products with less unwanted chemicals. They provided support to SMEs for financial calculations of substitutes.

    Examples of possible costs

    Investments Resources Non-recurring expenses
    Alternative Technology Energy consumption Research and development
    Purchasing machines Productivity Tests
    Purchasing equipment Labor Training staff
    Adaptation methodology Consumables

    4.5 Other aspects when verifying alternatives

    There are additional aspects that may be relevant when evaluating alternatives.

    • CO-tool: A tool from Danish Chemistry in Kredslob to calculate risk, materials, water and energy flows before and after substitution. (Engelska)

    More aspects to consider

    Environment Supply Chain Customer acceptance
    Emissions Secured delivery Consumer habits
    Energy Changed work process Traditions
    Transport Quality control Local culture
    CO2 per ton used substance Training staff Communication of successful substitution
    Emissions during production Internal audits Sustainable branding
    Water use
    Petro-chemicals
    Rare earth metals
    Affected recycling
    Waste generation

    Tips! Contact us if you need guidance on how to proceed with verifying alternatives! Also feel free to contact us when you have made a successful substitution. We want to communicate your story as inspiration for other companies.

     

    Continue to step 5. Develop new alternatives


    Nina Melander

    Contact person

    Nina Melander

    Rådgivare Substitutionscentrum

    +46 10 516 52 16
    nina.melander@ri.se

    Read more about Nina