Bans on POPs and SVHCs undermine recycling, says Axion Polymers executive / Counter to EU Circular Economy vision / Toxic substances can be dealt with “successfully and harmlessly”
Outspoken industry executive Keith Freegard, director of recycling specialist Axion Polymers (Salford, Manchester / UK;, has challenged the EU’s approach to regulating suspected toxic substances in plastics on grounds that this hinders recycling. Commenting on the ongoing debate over prospective bans on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs), Freegard said that while the Stockholm Convention requires parties to take measures to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs into the environment, “there is a danger we could go too far.”

The EU’s vision for a Circular Economy – see of 07.12.2015 and 24.02.2016 – Freegard said, is in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of a “toxic-free” Europe. This especially as the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA, Helsinki / Finland;, the body that administrates REACH, continuously adds new candidates to the list of substances of very high concern (SVHCs), which now totals 168 – see of 21.12.2015. Companies wanting to use such substances beyond the sunset date must apply for permission. From the Axion director’s perspective, recycling the material can be part of the solution rather than the problem by safely locking the legacy substances away.

If restrictions or bans on undesirable additives are applied by “the letter of the law across Europe,” any company with a recycled polymer that could contain small traces of them would be prevented from recycling it again, Freegard stressed, “thus risking that they are burned rather than recovered or recycled.” For him, “the wholesale banning of substances without any thought as to how we can usefully deal with them is sort-sighted.” Through recycling, he asserts, low levels of toxic substances in recycled plastics such as brominated flame retardants – now largely phased out in the EU – can be dealt with “successfully and harmlessly,” even if not completely eradicated.

“I think we’re getting the wrong balance between the desire to have a toxic-free Europe and a more pragmatic approach that enables materials that already contain those additives to be recycled,” Freegard said. “My concern is that the regulatory authorities who are focused on banning certain chemicals are gaining a louder and stronger voice in Europe than those who are trying to encourage a greater circular flow of materials. Unless this dichotomy is sorted out, there’s a real risk of new rules being created which make it impossible to recycle.”
29.02.2016 [233443-0]
Published on 29.02.2016

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