Harmful additives in WEEE plastics and the regulatory framework

Päivi Fjäder, Topi Turunen, Petra Rinne, Eevaleena Häkkinen, Sari Kauppi, Tuomas Sormunen, Mirja Andersson

Research output: Book/ReportReport

Abstract

One of the targets of the circular economy is to keep different materials and substances in circulation for as long as possible. The need for fossil-based virgin materials is efficiently reduced by substituting them with recycled materials. The European Union has set recycling targets for different waste materials. To achieve these ambitious circular economy objectives, new sources of recyclable waste materials in addition to packaging are needed. It has been suggested that a possible source for enhancing the recycling rate of plastics could be materials in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). It has been estimated that plastic concentrations in WEEE are about 9% in large household appliances, 48% in small household appliances, 30% in ICT equipment, and 31% in TVs, radios, etc. of the total weight of these devices. It is also one of the fastest growing waste streams in our society. Hence, WEEE offers a great potential source of materials for plastics recycling and recovery.

The properties of plastics used in these special applications often need to be improved, for example, for safety reasons, by adding various chemical additives that can act as flame retardants, stabilisers, biocides, lubricants, colourants, fillers, and reinforcements, depending on their use. Recycling of WEEE plastics has proved challenging due to the possibly high concentrations of hazardous additives used in plastics in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

Requirements to remove restricted or phased out substances from recycling processes are getting stricter. In general, the regulatory framework of harmful chemicals at the interface of wastes and products is complex. A consideration of this interface is particularly relevant when waste materials are turned into products in recycling processes. According to the chemicals legislation, recycled materials must fulfil the same requirements for the content of harmful substances as virgin raw materials. The possible presence of certain harmful substances in WEEE plastics can therefore restrict recycling or the use of recycled materials.

Preventing the recycling of restricted chemicals also requires the development of identification methods for these substances. In addition, efficient separation techniques are also needed for different matrices and waste streams. The existing chemical legislation should also continuously be followed, because new chemicals are subject to the restriction all the time. Increasing information and new solutions like databases may in the future facilitate the monitoring of the use and occurrence of harmful chemicals in recycling WEEE plastics. An example of this is the already existing SCIP database, which contains information about articles placed on the EU market that contain Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC). In future, the chemical content of products should also already be considered when designing new products. More efficient chemicals management in recycling promotes a safe and sustainable circular economy.

This report surveys the occurrence of the most relevant harmful substances in WEEE plastics and their legislative framework. Special attention has been paid to flame retardants and certain plasticisers due to their high concentrations in EEE plastics. Additionally, various chemical additives that have been considered suitable alternatives for already restricted or phased out harmful chemicals in EEE plastics have been evaluated.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherFinnish Environment Institute SYKE
Number of pages110
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-11-5507-9
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Publication series

SeriesReports of the Finnish Environment Institute
Number33
ISSN1796-1726

Keywords

  • plastic
  • harmful substances
  • additives
  • electrical and electronic equipment recycling
  • legislation

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