The interpretation permits recycling plastic scrap containing levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) less than 50 parts per million. The EPA banned the manufacturing, sale and distribution of PCB products in US in 1979 because of the health and environmental hazards that these chemicals can cause. The EPA still permits PCBs in what it calls “totally enclosed” uses, such as transformers and capacitors.
More than 90 countries agree to eliminate PBCs by signing the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001.
Since the ban, however, PCBs are still prevalent in the ecosystem in the form of leaks from transformers, landfills, smoke from incineration and pyrolysis, according to Frost & Sullivan chemicals, materials and food industry analyst Sandeepan Mondal.
Mondal says the new interpretation will reduce the environmental degredation caused by PCBs and allow more plastics to be recycled. The auto sector can use recycled shredder residue products in coatings, paints, adhesives, plastics and flame retardant additives.
“This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle and from incinerations and pyrolysis of waste PCB products,” Mondal says. “The re-use of PCB products in the automotive industry will also reduce crude oil use and save more land space, which was used earlier for landfills. Additionally, there will be renewed interest and commercial activity in the recycling sector, which will actively contribute to the GDP of the economy in the form of fresh investments and higher employment rates.”
In 2011, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries approached the EPA about the separation, recycling, use and distribution of recycled plastics from shredder residue recovered from metals recycling facilities.
The ISRI says the industry generates 1 million to 2 million tons of automobile shredder residue plastics, most of which could be recycled.
ISRI president Robin Wiener told Waste & Recycling News that Europe and Asia already employ technologies for separating and recycling these plastics. He says the EPA’s action will allow similar investments in the US.