Plastics recyclers in Europe are worried that the new REACH law will create huge costs and bureaucratic demands that may drive many out of business.
The European Union's all-embracing REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) legislation, regulating the use of chemicals, was formally adopted Dec. 18 by the EU's Council of Ministers.
Recyclers fear they will be unable to meet the strict REACH requirement to prove on a comprehensive ``safety data sheet'' precisely the chemical content of post-consumer recyclate they sell.
The regulations, due to come into force in June, could mean that small and medium-sized recycling firms may be forced to pay to have every batch of the recyclate tested to establish its content.
``The problem for the recycler is he has no information coming into him as part of the natural flow of information within REACH because nobody gives him a data sheet when he picks up the waste,'' said Mark Burstall, chairman of the industry's REACH Working Group.
Under existing regulations, mechanical recyclers produce a limited data sheet only if there is anything hazardous in the recyclate or if a customer requests information. But the data is based on generic information the recycler may have gathered about the material.
``REACH does not allow him to do that anymore. ... He's got to produce evidence of the condition and contents of that material,'' said Burstall, who also is chairman of the British Plastics Federation Recycling Council and a committee member of the European Plastics Recyclers trade group in Brussels, Belgium.
It has taken the EU and European lawmakers three years to agree to the complex REACH legislation, which will replace 40 existing regulations and apply to 30,000 chemicals. The plastics industry, including recyclers, backed a number of parliamentary amendments to modify the law, but those were not passed.
Now, European recycling firms are clinging to the hope they can still influence the process of formalizing technical details for REACH's implementation. The European Plastics Converters trade group in Brussels is involved in drawing up a technical guidance document due to be complete by June.
Under REACH regulations, the material produced by recyclers and sold to converters to mold a new product is classed as a ``preparation.'' At that point, the recycler will have to complete a safety data sheet with evidence of the material's content.
Evidence for REACH must ``look at routes of human and environmental exposure and establish the worst-case scenario from the various materials that may be in there'' and demonstrate whether that's a risk to humans or the environment, Burstall said.
``What the recycling fraternity has said is, rather than testing every batch of material at that molecular level to identify what's in there, we want a concession to be allowed to draw generic information from those sorts of material, knowing what we do about them,'' Burstall said.
Some testing will be inevitable to establish average contaminant levels and show levels in the exposure scenario are maintained batch to batch, according to Burstall. Recyclers do not want out of REACH, but just need some help to get the information required on a cost-effective basis, he stressed.
``When recycling post-consumer plastics, it is impossible to know which substances have been used to manufacture the finished product or article,'' said EuPR President Bernard Merkx.
The REACH problem was spelled out by Herbert Uhlen, whose company, PVC profiles producer Veka AG of Sendenhorst, Germany, recycles used plastic windows.
``If you make new compound, mixing raw materials, then you can guarantee what you've put in and you have constant composition. But if we collect old windows, maybe 20-30 years old, they may contain different substances from former times. The composition is not constant. We need greater clarification [about the REACH effect],'' he said.
Another recycler confused by REACH proposals is Pietro Dassie, health and safety and quality system manager at Freudenberg Politex srl of Novedrate, Italy. His firm recycles PET flake for use as insulating sheet in roofing.
``If REACH decides we need to produce a safety data sheet, it's important to clarify if we can use generic data or test each batch. In the worst case, we would stop this activity as the amount of money we would have to pay is too high against the product value,'' he said.
Burstall gives recyclers a 50-50 chance of getting the generic principle accepted.
``If recyclers can't get [the data] through generic means then maybe it's going to cost them their business,'' he said.