PCB exclusion for recycled plastics
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April 17, 2013
PCB exclusion for recycled plastics

In response to a request from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), the EPA has issued a regulatory interpretation that affirms that the recycling of plastic from automobile shredder residue (ASR) is acceptable under the Toxic Substances Control Act.  The Agency states that ASR recycling will be in compliance provided certain voluntary procedures developed by the ISRI are taken to keep polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) out of the shredder feedstock.  According to the ISRI, 1 to 2 million tons of plastic are generated annually in ASR aggregate, most of which could be separated and recycled using novel technologies rather than disposed..  

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Excluded PCB products

ISRI’s request, dated February 24, 2011, cited analysis indicating that plastics from shredder aggregate have low levels of PCBs and therefore meet provisions for “excluded PCB products” as defined in EPA regulations at 40 CFR 761.3.  In general, the exclusion covers products provided the PCB concentrations are less 50 parts per million (ppm); the products were legally manufactured, processed, distributed in commerce, or used before October 1, 1984; and the PCB concentration of less than 50 ppm was not the result of dilution or leaks and spills of PCBs in concentrations over 50 ppm. 

The ISRI requested “written confirmation that separating plastics from ASR aggregate for use and distribution in commerce, using processes that reduce any PCBs that may be present to a level at or below which there is no unreasonable risk, is authorized” under the above regulations.

Burden with industry

In its interpretation, the EPA states: 

“EPA believes that it is reasonable to interpret the regulations as generally allowing the recycling of excluded PCB products.  Accordingly, under the interpretation, to the extent that the feedstock (scrap materials) to a shredder consists of these kinds of materials, the plastics separated from the resulting residue can be recycled (and the resulting recycled product is also an excluded PCB product that can be processed, used, and distributed in commerce, including being further recycled), provided the PCB concentration in any resulting product is below 50 ppm.”

The Agency notes that the burden of demonstrating that a regulatory exclusion applies rests with the party seeking that exclusion.  The EPA says it believes that, for shredders and their suppliers that follow ISRI’s Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue, it is appropriate to generally treat the feedstock as consisting of excluded PCB products unless there is information specifically indicating that the feedstock does not qualify. 

If shredders and suppliers do not follow the voluntary procedures, they will need to be able to otherwise demonstrate that the feedstock and residue meet the exclusion.  “Clearly if the feedstock materials or residue contain PCBs at concentrations equal to or above 50 ppm, the materials cannot qualify as excluded PCB products,” states the EPA.

Materials management system

According to the Agency, ISRI’s voluntary procedures rely principally on EPA’s regulatory provisions.  In addition, the voluntary procedures include development and implementation of a documented materials management system through:

  • Documented source control programs aimed at preventing the introduction of PCBs regulated for disposal into the shredder feedstock materials that contribute to any shredder residue from which plastics will be recovered for recycling; and
  • Documented output control programs for facilities processing/producing/recycling plastics from shredder residue.

EPA’s interpretation of its regulations that apply to recycling plastics from shredder residue was published in the April 5, 2013, FR.

ISRI’s Voluntary Procedures for Recycling Plastics from Shredder Residue and supporting materials are available in EPA’s docket at www.regulations.gov (docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPPT-2012-0902).

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