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EPA gives OK to recycling plastic fluff

By: Gayle S. Putrich

April 11, 2013

WASHINGTON — Plastics pulled from metal recycling facilities can now be recycled following a new formal interpretation of federal regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA said the new interpretation of existing regulations permits plastic scrap containing levels of polychlorinated biphenyls less than 50 parts per million to enter the recycling stream, allowing more plastics to be recycled while continuing to prevent dangerous levels of PCBs from entering the environment.

New PCB production was banned in the United States in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001 because of links to cancer and toxic effects on the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems. PCBs are still permitted in some "totally enclosed uses," such as transformers and capacitors.

"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," EPA said in an April 5 federal notice.

According to EPA, the interpretation applies to any plastic separated from shredder residue recovered from metals recycling facilities under the conditions described in the Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue, which includes documented source control and output control programs aimed at keeping PCBs out of shredder feedstock materials.

The clarification to the ruling comes nearly two years after the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. approached EPA in hopes of clarifying existing regulations that could otherwise hinder innovation in separating plastics from automobile shredder residue (ASR) aggregate.

According to Washington-based ISRI, 1 million to 2 million tons of plastic are generated annually in ASR aggregate, most of which could be separated and recycled rather than disposed of.

"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," said ISRI President Robin Wiener in a statement.