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EPA supports residue plastics recycling

Keywords: Tags  scrap, ISRI, Robin Wiener, OmniSource, Brian Winters, Mark Lasky, Sadoff Iron & Metal, EPA Sean Davidson

NEW YORK — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s interpretation of regulations that would allow the recycling of plastics recovered from scrap metal shredder residue could trigger up to $1.25 billion in new investments by the recycling industry, according to an industry estimate.

The 30-day comment period closed Friday on the EPA’s interpretation of Toxic Substances Control Act regulations, which would allow the recycling of plastics separated from automobile shredder residue (ASR). The agency’s interpretation is based on regulatory provisions for excluded polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) products and voluntary procedures suggested by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington.

Last month, the EPA called for comments on its proposal to open shredder residue to the recovery of some plastics after it was approached by ISRI in February 2011 regarding separation, recycling, use and distribution of recycled plastics from shredder residue recovered from metals recycling facilities.

In a letter, ISRI requested "written confirmation that separating plastics from ASR aggregate for use and distribution in commerce, using processes that reduce any PCBs that might be present to a level at or below which there is no unreasonable risk, is authorized" under the act.

The EPA determined that the request had merit and offered its interpretation of existing rules and regulations, which could soon prompt a new area of focus for shredders.

ISRI previously estimated that allowing the plastics recycling could bring almost $1 billion in new equipment spending and $250 million in new construction, as well as 20,000 new jobs and $1.1 billion in additional gross earnings.

On Jan. 7, OmniSource Corp., one of the country’s largest metals recyclers, filed a comment with the EPA expressing its support of the agency’s interpretation.

Brian Winters, corporate environmental manager at Fort Wayne, Ind.-based OmniSource, said the company would consider investing in the recovery of plastics from ASR.

"EPA’s letter would incentivize recyclers to pursue existing and newly developed technologies to recover this plastic recyclable stream and to return it to beneficial use in producing new and existing products," he said, calling on the EPA to "expeditiously adopt" the voluntary procedures put forth by ISRI.

"The potential capital expenditure we expect to invest in such ventures, together with the construction and operation of these new recovery facilities, will certainly encourage regional economic growth through the creation of new jobs, potential tax revenues and infrastructure improvement," Winters said, also declaring the company’s full support of EPA’s interpretation.

Mark Lasky, chief executive officer of Sadoff Iron & Metal Co., also expressed support of the initiative in comments to the EPA on Jan. 8, which said the Fond du Lac, Wis.-based company would invest up to $1 million should the EPA proposal become reality.

"We recycle approximately 100,000 tons of automobiles and appliances annually and generate approximately 30,000 tons of shredder residue. By using current technology and the investment of up to $1 million, we conservatively estimate the ability to recycle 6,000 tons of shredder residue plastics and divert a like tonnage from a landfill," he said.

ISRI president Robin Wiener stands in favor of the EPA’s move, she told AMM.

"ISRI fully supports EPA’s interpretation clarifying that the agency’s existing PCB regulations allow for the separation, recycling, distribution in commerce and reuse of plastics recycled from shredder aggregate from the recycling of automobiles and appliances," she said.

"The interpretation will enable green investments that could use technology developed and funded in the U.S., that will produce environmental benefits, economic benefits in the U.S., and increase our nation’s global competitiveness," Wiener said. "For all these reasons, we are urging EPA to confirm this interpretation at the earliest opportunity."

Wiener said the environmental benefits of the practice include an annual savings of nearly 30 million barrels of oil, reduction of up to 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and more than 50 million cubic yards of landfill space saved each year.

If adopted, the interpretation won’t impose any binding requirements on recyclers.

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