Can Recycled BFR Plastics Be Used in New Plastic Housings?
by Michele Raymond
Will Europe’s new material restrictions on electronics
hamper U.S. electronics recyclers? That depends who you ask.
While there’s a lot of pressure for local government
to start collecting and recycling electronics waste – and for manufacturers
to pay at some point – there hasn’t been much discussion of
what products the old e-waste materials can go into.
Besides the fact that most electronics are now made in
Asia to begin with, the European Union is also restricting what materials
can be used in new electronics.
The Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive
bans lead, cadmium, mercury chromium VI and at least two brominated flame
retardants (BFRs) in new electronics as of July 2006, with some exemptions.
This one directive will cost industry billions to comply with.
But what about recycled components? Can a recycler in
the US mix BFR plastics with non-BFR plastics and use them for housings
in a new TV that could be sold in Europe?
Initially, a key European Parliament member, Karl-Heinz
Florenz, told us no. You’d need to separate out the BFR plastics.
In fact, Matsushita Electric in Japan did develop a machine that could
separate the BFR plastics from recovered materials.
However, a key European Commission committee has agreed
on some clarification language that appears to contradict this –
in some ways. While this agreement is not final, nor does it have the
force of law, it could provide some hope for those that actually want
to get those parts reused.
The language we were told by the EC was agreed July 20
at a Technical Adaptation Committee meeting states, “For purposes
of this directive it should be noted that the maximum concentration values
refer only to impurities which are unintentionally introduced. Unintentionally
introduced shall mean ‘not deliberately utilized in the formation
of a materials or component where its continued presence is desired in
the final product to provide a specific characteristic, appearance or
quality.” The use of recycled materials as feedstock for the manufacture
of new products, where some portion of the recycled materials may contain
amounts of the regulated materials, is to be considered as unintentionally
At press time, no one was even sure that language made
it into recommendations made to the Council of Ministers at the EC, because
If this language is approved, it is not good for electronics
designers, because they could not even use background levels of lead to
avoid “whiskering” which leads to chip failures.
However, it does seem to imply that if you can’t
sort the BFR plastics from the recycled e-waste stream, and the material
finds its way into a European electronics housing or part, the part is
still in compliance with RoHS.
This is just one, tiny sub-issue that electronics manufacturers
must contend with to attempt compliance with the RoHS and WEEE (waste
electronics takeback) directives in Europe. It’s a shame the EC
has made the directives so broad – they affect anything with a battery
or a cord. The breadth and complexity of the directives will make it nearly
impossible for the European countries to effectively enforce.
More information can be found at www.raymond.com.