EBRD POPs Technology Guide

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are the name given to a large number of organic chemical substances, which have been shown to have a significant impact on the environment and human health. DDT, used as a pesticide and insecticide was one of the first to be manufactured in the late nineteenth century and there are many thousands of different POPs chemicals now in existence.  The uses of POPs are incredibly varied and include fire-fighting foams and fire retardant coatings, electrical insulation fluids, non-stick coatings, water-repellent fabrics, insecticides, pesticides, paints and adhesives.

Many POPs can be transported by wind and water, meaning that those generated in one country may affect people, animals, and plants far from where they are used and released and for example have been recorded in the Artic and in marine sediments below 1,000m depth. They persist for long periods of time in the environment and can accumulate and pass from one species to the next through the food chain. The characteristics of POPs, notably their long environmental lifetime and the fact that they can have impacts far from where they were produced, mean that countries need to work together for their elimination. The 2001 Stockholm Convention is a global treaty aiming to protect human health and the environment from the effects of POPs and focuses on eliminating or reducing their release. Twelve POPs were initially included in the Convention with a further nineteen being added subsequently. It should be noted that as scientific research and understanding continues to grow, more will be added and also that each chemical group added, may itself contain many thousands of chemicals. For example, PFAS, which are commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’ and have been extensively used in non-stick coatings and cosmetics, have been under increasing scrutiny recently with the restriction proposals from the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA); over 9,700 PFAS chemicals are known.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) commissioned Earth Active to undertake research to identify and assess off-the-shelf technologies for the responsible management of four groups of POPs in eight countries across the Mediterranean region, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Lebanon, Montenegro, Morocco, Tunisia, and Türkiye. The assignment builds on two previous projects undertaken by Earth Active for EBRD which focussed on PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).

The assignment supports the EBRD’s Environmental Technology Transfer Programme (ENVITECC), funded by the Global Environment Facility under the Mediterranean Sea Programme: Enhancing Environmental Security (MedProgramme) (2020-2024) and is aligned with the bank’s Green Economy Transition (GET) approach. Ultimately, it is intended that suitable technologies and POPs-free materials identified as part of this assignment will be made available in the EBRD’s Green Technology Selector, which is a global shopping-style online platform launched by the EBRD in 2018 that connects vendors of the best green technologies with forward-thinking business and homeowners.

The assignment focuses on the following four groups of POPs:

  • PCBs – Polychlorinated Biphenyls – used in a large number of industrial applications, in particular as dielectric (insulating) fluids in transformers and capacitors
  • PFAS / PFOS – Per / poly fluoroalkyl substances – used in fire-fighting foams, electric and electronic equipment and as surface treatment agents
  • HBCD – Hexabromocyclododecane – mainly used as a flame-retardant additive and thermal insulation in polystyrene materials in the building industry as well as in upholstered furniture and packaging materials
  • SCCP – Short-chain chlorinated paraffins – used in metalworking and PVC processing and as a plasticizer and flame retardant in rubber, paints and adhesives.

The use of these POPs in the context of the following priority areas and sectors is considered to identify alternative technologies and POPs-free materials:

  • Exposure to POPs at homes and offices
  • POPs release to the environment due to industrial / commercial scale production and use of POPs containing firefighting foams
  • Intentional industrial uses of POPs in the manufacturing industry
  • Unintentional releases from industrial processes

Currently, identification of alternatives to POPs-containing products can be difficult, due to inter alia a general lack of awareness about POPs, the large number of different chemicals, their wide range of uses, the difficulty in obtaining information on the composition of many products, and the fact that many alternatives are also POPs or have POPs-like characteristics.

Relevant data for each country were obtained from the latest National Implementation Plans (NIPs) prepared under the Stockholm Convention, and a range of secondary sources supported by a network of in-country technical experts, including Dekonta.

In conducting the research, a number of challenges were encountered due to inconsistencies in reporting and methodologies used to quantify POPs production and consumption and a lack of available data. Notably, not all eight countries have published updated NIPs since the initial Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2001. Since then, 19 new POPs have been added to the Convention, three of which (PFOS, HBCD and SCCP) were a specific focus of the assignment.

The research found that, as would be expected, there were fewer available alternatives and technologies for the POPs which were most recently added to the Convention. For example, for SCCPs, the majority of identified alternatives are also considered to have POPs-like characteristics and indeed are under consideration for addition to the Stockholm Convention. In terms of disposal of all four groups, whilst various remediation and disposal technologies have been developed, these are typically small scale and high-temperature incineration remains the preferred solution.

Inclusion of a technology or product on the EBRD’s Green Technology Selector (GTS) platform requires that defined minimum performance criteria are met. For POPs technologies identifying criteria that are both clear in terms of relevance to POPs and also to the ENVITECC countries was a key aim. It is also essential to recognise that a number of technologies and products (currently) using POPs also need to meet additional criteria and specifications relating to safety and efficacy.

It is hoped that the identification of suitable alternative products and technologies and provision of clear, accessible information on POPs via the GTS platform will therefore contribute to the safe and responsible management of POPs-contaminated products in accordance with the Stockholm Convention and contribute to the wider body of knowledge on POPs and their alternatives.

We are delighted that the report has been published by EBRD, read it here 



6 March 2023
Catherine Barrett
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