UK glass recyclers protest EA decision

Firms say that shipments of CRTs from the U.K. to Holland violate laws.

April 2, 2014
RTGE Staff
Electronics Glass Legislation & Regulations

Envirocom crt monitorsA group of leaded glass recyclers and precast concrete manufacturers in the United Kingdom have expressed concern that a recent decision by the Environment Agency (EA) to allow the export of cathode ray tube (CRT) from the U.K. to Holland and then permit the import of leaded-glass-filled concrete blocks from Holland back into the U.K. is potentially unlawful and is threatening the future of UK industry and jobs.

According to opponents of the policy, in the last year the EA has given Trans Frontier Shipment (TFS) approval to UK-based dismantlers of CRT televisions to export leaded glass to Holland for treatment by a Dutch company called Jansen B.V.—a practice that U.K. glass recyclers say is contrary to existing U.K. recycling standards and is threatening the multimillion pound investment in the U.K. CRT recycling industry, with much wider effects.

In a press release, the group notes that there is strong evidence that the Dutch company may not be treating the glass effectively and is instead encapsulating the glass into concrete construction blocks, along with other waste, that are then sold back into the U.K. market, seriously undercutting the U.K. precast concrete manufacturing industry and posing a significant environmental risk.

Independent tests have revealed that these substandard blocks are a third of the strength of U.K. manufactured blocks. According to the press release, a major order already may have been agreed upon between Jansen and a U.K. port authority to use the imported glass from Holland to rebuild sea defenses in the U.K. However, both parties may be unaware that these blocks should be classed as hazardous waste because of their make-up and that they could present an environmental risk in the future.

A waste industry steering group, which includes leaded glass recyclers and precast concrete manufacturers, has been set up to tackle the issue and its wider implications. The group believes that despite EA assurances, Dutch standards for both recycling of the leaded glass and manufacturing of the concrete blocks are not on a par with those in the U.K., which are dictated by U.K. law and best practice. The steering group also believes that EA cuts have affected policing of both CRT recycling standards and the import of the sub-standard concrete blocks.

It is calling for:
1.    Temporary withdrawal of TFS approval by the EA of the CRT glass exports to Holland pending further investigation of the Dutch company and its processes—and to reveal what questions the EA asked the Dutch authorities to establish if their processes are compatible with the U.K.’s as it claims.

2.    An investigation by the EA into the hazardous nature of the imported blocks and if necessary, re-classification of them as hazardous waste, and for the EA to reveal what checks, if any, have been completed to ensure these blocks aren’t hazardous

The group has already gained cross-party consensus from some members of Parliament on the issue, which is threatening two U.K. industries and the wider U.K. economy.

Alan Whitehead, co-chair of the APSRG (Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group), the cross-party government group responsible for recycling and sustainability, says, “Millions of pounds have been invested in the U.K. CRT recycling and precast concrete industries in order to meet government recycling targets in addition to creating much needed green jobs. I am hopeful that DEFRA will resolve this issue now that they have been briefed about the implications.”

Owen Batham, director of Elite Precast Concrete and member of the British Precast Concrete Federation, adds, “The situation has resulted in thousands of metric tons of hazardous waste in the form of substandard concrete blocks that have already been supplied to unsuspecting U.K. companies. Not only is this practice illegal, it also creates an ongoing legacy problem which could have been addressed before the waste left the UK.”

Patrick Watts, managing director of SWEEEP Kuusakoski Ltd., says, “The law regarding the recycling of hazardous leaded waste CRT glass in the U.K. is that it should be treated to BATRRT (best available treatment recovery and recycling techniques). The companies that have invested millions to follow this law are now seriously compromised by the EA’s contradictory decision to allow export to Jansen. The analysis of the concrete blocks by independent agencies shows that they are substandard to British guidelines and yet they are allowed to be sold back to the U.K. to compete against U.K.-made quality items.”

Sean Feeney, CEO of the WEEE recycling firm Environcom, notes, “It is absolutely wrong to undermine the UK CRT glass recycling industry by allowing the export of leaded glass to Holland for inappropriate treatment that falls below UK recycling standards as agreed by UK law as part of the WEEE Directive. It is also absolutely wrong to allow the import of substandard blocks back into the UK from Holland which have undergone a manufacturing process not permitted in the UK and present a hazard to the environment and to health and safety. We are calling on the government to recognize these wrongs and take immediate appropriate action.”

In the U.K. there are more than 90,000 metric tons of CRT televisions disposed of every year. More than 20 percent of a CRT television is leaded glass, creating more than 20,000 metric tons of glass that is categorized as hazardous waste and requires specialized treatment and recycling to prevent contamination of the environment.