EPA Finalizes Interpretation That Would Allow Recycling of Plastics From Shredder Residue

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By Anthony Adragna  

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized an interpretation of regulations governing the management and recycling of polychlorinated biphenyls that it says will allow plastic materials recovered from metal recycling facilities and automobiles to be recycled.

In a notice published in the April 5 Federal Register, EPA said the interpretation applies to plastic scraps that contain levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are less than 50 parts per million (78 Fed. Reg. 20,640).

“EPA is adopting the generic 50 ppm exclusion for the processing, distribution in commerce, and use, based on the Agency's determination that the use, processing, and distribution in commerce of products with less than 50 ppm PCB concentration will not generally present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” the agency said in the notice.

EPA said its interpretation would generate environmental benefits and protect human health by promoting recycling and preventing PCBs from entering the environment.

EPA acknowledged it could not always determine the source of PCBs in the plastics, and said the exclusion would not apply to plastics containing PCB concentrations greater than 50 parts per million.

Section 6(e) of the Toxic Substances Control Act generally prohibits the manufacture, processing, distribution, and use of PCBs, but a list of “excluded PCB products” have been classified by EPA as suitable for use, processing, and distribution. Those products must typically have concentrations of PCBs less than 50 parts per million (40 C.F.R. pt. 761.20(a) and (c)).

Public comments received on the proposed interpretation were overwhelmingly positive (37 CRR 173, 2/11/13).

Under the final interpretation of the rules, recyclers must follow a list of voluntary procedures developed by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries that are designed to prevent the introduction of PCBs into recycled plastics. The procedures involve the development and introduction of a documented materials management program.

ISRI Touts Environmental Benefits

ISRI told BNA that the interpretation would reduce consumption of oil by 30 million barrels annually, eliminate up to 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and save more than 50 million cubic yards of landfill space.

“We are very grateful for the agency's recognition of the importance of clarifying its regulations to create certainty for business and to enable much more recycling,” Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, told BNA. “The technologies for separating and recycling the plastics are already being employed in Europe and Asia, and the agency's action will now allow similar investments to be made here in the U.S., instead of overseas.”

ISRI had previously lobbied EPA for the interpretation on environmental and economic grounds (36 CRR 1301, 12/10/12).

EPA said the decision would be of interest to private citizens, federal, tribal, state and local governments, environmental consulting firms, industry representatives, environmental organizations, and other public interest groups.

The manufacture of PCBs was banned by EPA in 1979 after research linked them to cancer and other health threats to the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.

Lisa Evans, an attorney for Earthjustice who authored comments opposing the interpretation, was not available for comment.

ISRI was not immediately available for comment.

By Anthony Adragna  

The scheduled Federal Register notice announcing EPA's final interpretation is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=aada-96fr6a.

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