The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced an interpretation of its regulations that will allow auto shredder plant operators to recycle the plastic separated from shredder residue (ASR). Recycling can take place under conditions described in the Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue document, relying principally on regulatory provisions for excluding PCB products.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), Washington, states that resolving regulatory uncertainty could lead to investments and further development in innovative methods to separate plastics from ASR aggregate that would produce broad environmental benefits and increase global competitiveness. ISRI has developed a set of voluntary procedures designed to prevent the introduction of PCBs that are regulated for disposal into recycled plastics recovered from shredder residue generated by metal recycling facilities.
The Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from ASR includes development and implementation of a documented materials management system through the following: Documented source control programs aimed at preventing the introduction of PCBs regulated for disposal into the shredder feedstock materials that contribute to any shredder residue from which plastics will be recovered for recycling; and documented output control programs for facilities processing, recycling or producing plastics from shredder residue.
The interpretation responds to questions EPA has received from ISRI about the applicability of the excluded PCB products regulations.
EPA was approached by ISRI regarding separation, recycling, use and distribution of recycled plastics from shredder residue recovered from metals recycling facilities. In a Feb. 24, 2011 letter , ISRI requested “written confirmation that separating plastics from ASR aggregate for use and distribution in commerce, using processes that reduce any PCBs that may be present to a level at or below which there is no unreasonable risk, is authorized” under regulations promulgated pursuant to the Toxic Substances Control Act.
In its letter, (Click here to view the letter.) ISRI stated that “... analysis shows that the separation, recycling, distribution in commerce, and reuse of plastics from shredder aggregate is consistent with existing authorizations that allow the use and distribution in commerce of products that contain low levels of PCBs, including provisions for ‘excluded PCB products’ and ‘excluded PCB manufacturing processes’.”
TSCA section 6(e) generally prohibits the manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce and use of PCBs. However, EPA has by regulation excluded certain materials, including excluded PCB products, from the prohibitions. Excluded PCB products are defined as PCB materials that appear at concentrations less than 50 ppm (parts per million), including but not limited to:
- Non-Aroclor (while PCBs were manufactured and sold under many names, the most common was the Aroclor series) inadvertently generated PCBs as a byproduct or impurity resulting from a chemical manufacturing process;
- Products contaminated with Aroclor or other PCB materials from historic PCB uses;
- Recycled fluids and/or equipment contaminated during use involving the products;
- Used oils, provided that the products or source of the products containing less than 50 ppm concentration PCBs were legally manufactured, processed, distributed in commerce, or used before Oct. 1, 1984.
In its findings, the EPA says it believes that, for shredders and their suppliers that follow the Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue, it is appropriate to generally treat the feedstock as consisting of excluded PCB products unless there is information specifically indicating that the feedstock does not qualify.
The EPA adds that if shredders and suppliers do not follow the Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue, they will need to be able to otherwise demonstrate that the feedstock and residue meet the exclusion. Clearly if the feedstock materials or residue contain PCBs at concentrations greater than 50 ppm, the materials cannot qualify as excluded PCB products.
EPA acknowledges uncertainty as to the source of the PCBs in shredder residue. However, EPA believes the procedures, as explained in the Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue, can prevent the introduction of PCBs at levels greater than 50 ppm.
EPA may periodically evaluate the processes and procedures involved in recycling plastics recovered from shredder residue, the agency notes. In addition, EPA believes it is likely that the number of potential sources of PCBs at levels greater than ppm has declined since the TSCA section 6(e) prohibitions went into effect. If PCBs in the feedstock material are less than 50 ppm, it is plausible that the sources of PCBs in the residue are excluded PCB products.
EPA says it has concluded that the costs associated with the strict prohibition on PCB activities are large and outweigh the risks posed by these activities. “These amendments have excluded the majority of low-level PCB activities (less than 50 ppm) from regulation,” the agency states. Given the difficulty of determining the precise source of PCBs, EPA says the purpose of excluding “old” PCBs under the excluded products rule is best effectuated in these circumstances by treating less than 50 ppm materials entering a shredder as excluding PCB products unless there is information specifically indicating that the materials do not qualify.