EPA to allow plastics recycling from shredder scrap

EPA to allow plastics recycling from shredder scrap

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced an interpretation of regulations that will allow more plastics recovered from metal and automobile recycling facilities to be recycled.

In 2011, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries sent a letter to EPA requesting clarification about separating plastics from automotive shredder residue (ASR) recovered from metals recycling facilities, maintaining that taking measures to reduce any polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is legal under current regulations. The letter stated that resolving regulatory uncertainty surrounding the recovery of plastics from shredder residue could result in more of this material being recycled.

PCBs are flame retardants that were banned from being used in most manufacturing in 1979 by the Toxic Substances Control Act, but continued to be allowed to be used in some "enclosed use" products, such as capacitors and insulation fluids in transformers. The vast majority of PCBs at issue, however, come from older cars that were manufactured before the ban came into effect more than three decades ago.

The EPA held a public comment period in 2012 on its proposed interpretation of regulations that would allow for the recycling of plastics recovered from ASR. Most of the comments supported EPA's interpretation, arguing that it would produce environmental and economic benefits. Others objected, questioning the data and analysis of the interpretation, as well as its legal basis. Some also raised environmental justice issues.

On April 4, the EPA issued a notice of its interpretation of the regulations that will "generally allow for the recycling of plastic separated from shredder residue" under procedures developed by ISRI in consultation with the agency. Generally, the interpretation allows for the processing of materials with PCBs with concentrations that are less than 50 parts per million.

"EPA has concluded that the costs associated with the strict prohibition on PCB activities are large and outweigh the risks posed by these activities," reads the notice.

"The technologies for separating and recycling the plastics are already being employed in Europe and Asia, and the agency's action will now allow similar investments to be made here in the U.S., instead of overseas," Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, said to Bloomberg BNA, commenting on the rule change.

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