European recyclers are lobbying for the reconsideration of a proposed EU legislation which has lowered concentration limits for decaBDE, a brominated flame retardant, in substances and products.
The initial amendment to the EU's persistent organic pollutants (POPs) Regulation, put forward by UK MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, Julie Girling, sets a concentration limit of 10ppm for decaBDE in mixtures and articles, considerably lower than the existing limit value of 1,000ppm under the REACh regulations.
The new draft, which was submitted in late May, will aim to recast the current POPs regulation in the EU, which has been in place since 2004.
But the legislation has raised concern among European recyclers, which argue that it could, in effect, put an end to the recycling of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) or ELVs (end-of-life vehicles) in Europe.
“From a long distance away, a piece of legislation comes through that has quite big ramifications for the industry,” explained Keith Freegard, associate consultant at Axion Polymers, a UK-based recycler of scrap automotive plastics.
This regulation, explained Freegard in an interview with PNE, originates from the UN Stockholm and Basel Conventions, which both address controlling hazardous waste and are both still ongoing.
The Stockholm Convention aims at banning persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and the Basel Convention is responsible for the shipment and handling of wastes and for setting the concentration limits of POPs above which wastes have to be disposed of and cannot be recycled.
A conference of parties of the Stockholm Convention which took place in Geneva May 2017 added decaBDE to the list of POPs and participating countries were urged to address the issue in their respective countries.
“Now the EU was a really strong party in that decision-making process and fell under an obligation to implement a regulation to follow the lead of the UN,” Freegard noted.
According to the recycling expert, working groups within the UN will at this stage decide the limits for handling decaBDE by recyclers and polymer manufacturers.
“These groups have representatives from some of the main areas and technical experts from the industry trying to work out the details of the legislation.
“One key number is the LPL – lower POP limit – in the waste plastic flows. The Basel convention are working on the issue with a view that by the end of this year the working group will be able to produce a first draft to set a limit for handling of this waste,” explained Freegard.
Another key number to be decided at international levels will be the UTC – unintentional trace contamination – which is a level set allowing people to put a limited amount of a certain chemical in recycled plastics for new articles.
“There is a clear desire and drive from within the industry to make sure that a) we can still move shredded plastics waste around within Europe and b) export them to other countries,” said Freegard who is working with other key industry players on this issue.
But the major concern for Freegard and other recyclers is that they have been producing their materials based on the EU’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACh) which currently sets the UTC limit value of 1,000ppm for products.
“Out of the blue in June, an amendment tabled during the parliamentary phase added decaBDE to the Annex I of the EU POP Regulation, and this was unexpected since this addition was not present in the original proposal of the European Commission,” he said.
The industry expected the EU legislation not to come out before the ongoing UN discussions reach an agreement and not any time before May or June next year when the working groups are to submit their guidelines.
“Such regulations will have huge ramifications on the companies that have established themselves to serve the circular economy in the EU and are just about beginning to reach volumes that are exciting. It will impact the ability of those companies in being be able to put high-quality traced recycled materials on the market,” said Freegard.
But he remains cautiously positive that his, and his counterparts’ lobbying, will bear fruit and change the EU regulation in some shape or form.
“If you look at the comments that Judy made when she came to our factory earlier in August, you can see that she is very aware of the need to support and allow the growth of companies like us…. Julie Girling has proposed another amendment which does not contain the 10 ppm limit anymore. The vote at the European Parliament will allow to decide between one or the other,” he said.
Meetings, said Freegard, are being set up for the next few months for this issue and the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) has been heavily involved in advancing the cause in close coordination with other stakeholders.
“They [EuRIC] are confederation of the recycling industry (representating national federations from across the EU) and many of their members will be severely impacted by this. We are making sure that politicians, MPs and MEPs, are aware of the issue for the recycling industry and the circular economy as a whole and have invited the MEPs to come and understand what we are doing,” the UK recycler added.
"I’m hopeful that common sense will prevail," Freegard concluded.