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Alternatives Assessment explained

How can better alternatives be selected to phase out a hazardous chemicals? Employing the Alternatives Assessment method means using clear principles for health, environment, functionality and economy – throughout the life-cycle of the substance – thereby achieving long-term sustainable substitution, so-called informed substitution.

The challenge when it comes to substitution is avoiding  regrettable substitution, i.e. choosing alternatives that are just as bad as, or worse than, the substance originally phased out.

It is rare to find alternatives that are better from all perspectives, so you will need to make calculated trade-offs based on your prioritised values.

The important thing is to ensure that trade-offs relating to safety, technical and economic feasibility, life cycle and circularity have been well considered and well researched to achieve informed and informed substitution.

What does the term ‘Alternatives Assessment’ mean?

Alternatives Assessment is a method of achieving informed substitution. The process enables you to map, compare and choose better alternatives to the chemical being phased out. The method helps you to compare the advantages and disadvantages of multiple alternatives before making a decision.

Alternatives Assessment also advocates for functional substitution. By defining the function of the chemical being phased out, the potential alternatives are extended from new chemicals to new materials, processes and designs, and allows for more in-depth analysis of the requirements of the specific function.

Important principles in Alternatives Assessment include transparency, clear documentation, having the right stakeholders at the right place, and predefining the methods to be used so that they are not altered at a later stage to influence the selection of alternatives.

More information about Alternatives Assessment can be found in:

How to carry out Alternatives Assessment

There are no strict protocols on how alternatives should be identified, evaluated, and compared as part of alternatives assessment. Instead, several frameworks have been developed by different stakeholders to help you structure the decision-making process. One thing the frameworks have in common is that you preclude excessively hazardous alternatives early in the process, prior to investigating technical and economical feasibility.

The frameworks can be found in the OECD substitution and alternatives assessment toolbox.

You can achieve informed substitution by:

  • Determining and documenting goals, principles, decision-making rules and methods to be used. These must be established before you begin to assess alternatives.
  • Precluding ‘phase-out substances’ early in the process (read more about ‘phase-out substances’ here)
  • Structuring the work and ensuring transparency in the organisation, and by providing information about assessment and decision-making
  • Involving the right people in the right steps – alternatives assessment requires cooperation among several different organisational disciplines (product development, economy, logistics, market)
  • Using reliable information and ensuring that you have obtained complete information for all the critical aspects, such as health, environment, technical and economical feasibility.

How we work with Alternatives Assessment

The mission of the Swedish Center for Chemical Substitution is to advocate the selection of better alternatives through informed substitution. We recommend Alternatives Assessment as a method for substitution. Our advisors are knowledgeable about Alternatives Assessment and its frameworks, and we work with national and international operators to ensure that we are kept up-to-date on research and the latest knowledge in the field.

The Swedish Center for Chemical Substitution will hold training courses in Alternatives Assessment from autum 2020.

Read more about our courses here.

Read more about the Alternatives Assessment method

OECD Alternatives Assesment and substitution toolbox
The OECD toolbox contains frameworks, guides, case studies and tools for Alternatives Assessment. 

ECHA Webinar in Alternatives Assessment
A free, 6-hour webinar on the basics of Alternatives Assessment presented by the European Chemicals Agency.

An established method within Alternatives Assessment for assessing alternatives from a toxicological perspective. Free reports, frameworks for chemicals, mixtures, materials and polymers.

Toxic Use Reduce Institute
Research institute working actively with Alternatives Assessment. TURI has developed frameworks for alternatives assessment as well as basic tools for assessing alternatives. Their website also contains reports and case studies for better alternatives.

Nina Melander

Contact person

Nina Melander

Rådgivare Substitutionscentrum

+46 10 516 52 16

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