Decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), a type of flame retardant material, is commonly used in plastics found in electronics, appliances and vehicles. Because of the widespread use of consumer electronics (and therefore, the use of electronic plastic containing decaBDE), the European Union (EU) has been regulating the use of the material in various products, including residual levels in recycled plastics.
However, back in March, the European Commission proposed an update to the EU’s laws regarding persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The update proposed setting a limit of 10 parts per million of decaBDE in products, with certain exceptions for aircraft, automobiles and electronics. But the proposal does not include a recycling exemption. Which means that this could lead to a setback not only in electronic plastic recycling but in the global goal of plastic recycling efforts.
The proposal surprised the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) and the European Electronics Recyclers Association (EERA), which both said the strict limit would end the recycling of plastics from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) as well as end-of-life vehicles.
“Producing recycling plastics containing less than 10 mg/kg of decaBDE is not technically feasible at industrial scale, even for the best performing operators with whom EuRIC is working,” according to EuRIC’s position paper on the matter.
According to the EERA’s statement on the proposal, a small percentage of the overall WEEE plastics stream contains brominated flame retardants such as decaBDE. Some items have high levels, however. For example, the housings of old CRT monitors can contain up to 150,000 parts per million of brominated flame retardants, EERA said.
“With modern separation technologies, responsible WEEE plastics recyclers are able to recycle these e-waste materials so that the recycled plastics do not contain more than 1,000 parts per million of these flame retardants,” EERA stated. The plastics are sent to incineration facilities.
A limit of 10 parts per million is so low that it’s below reliable detection levels in a laboratory setting, let alone an industrial one, according to the group. That means the limit is effectively a ban, EERA said.
The EERA asked the European leaders to allow a 1,000-parts-per-million exception for recycled plastic. Alternatively, they could refrain from putting a limit in the law and wait until international leaders working under the Stockholm and Basel conventions decide what to do, EERA stated.
Currently, the Council of Ministers and a committee of the European Parliament has been reviewing the draft legislation and a committee vote on the final proposal will be held in October. After that, the full chamber will consider voting on it. Meanwhile, activists are calling for bans on the recycling of plastics with brominated flame retardants after a study found the material was being recycling from e-plastics into a variety of new products, such as children’s toys.