A recent ruling by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely to lead to developments in auto shredder residue (ASR) recycling and energy conversion in America that are already underway in parts of Europe.
With an aggressive 95% landfill diversion target facing vehicle makers, scrap recyclers and others who handle end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) in the European Union, a great deal of work already has been done there on finding end markets for the mixed plastic fraction of ELVs.
In the U.S., the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), has long held that resolving the regulatory uncertainty will lead to innovation to separate plastics from ASR, much as has happened in parts of the EU.
Similar plastic sorting technologies are being deployed in the computer recycling or waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) sector. The WEEE directive in the EU similarly stipulates landfill diversion as a goal, providing an additional incentive (beyond higher polymer costs) to sort and recycle these materials or to prepare them for an energy conversion process.
The other sector increasingly seeking 100% recycling or recovery is the post-consumer solid waste and commingled recyclables segment. An approach that is not new to some parts of the EU but is now taking hold in the U.S. and the U.K. includes a waste-to-energy conversion process immediately following materials recovery facility (MRF) sorting.
In the U.S., the California city of San José has made considerable investments to manage the waste and recyclables it collects with the goal of nearing zero waste. Working with service companies and technology providers, San Jose has set ambitious recycling rate goals, only then to be followed by an energy-from-waste process for the remaining materials.
This year in the U.K., the British subsidiary of Spain’s FCC Group has opened a MRF in the East Midlands of England that includes a refuse-derived-fuel (RDF) preparation system at the same site. In a news release announcing the opening of the new plant, FCC says it may convert 50% or more of the material arriving at the MRF into RDF that can be used as power plant feedstock in the U.K. and other nations.
There are those who do not view waste-to-energy applications as a proper form of recycling. Advocates, on the other hand, say that capturing the carbon value of these discarded materials serves a better environmental and economic purpose than sending them to a landfill or old-style incinerator.
Those on both sides of the debate across all recycling sectors claim unity, however, in first wishing to capture materials that can effectively and affordably be recycled back into new products.