Metals recycling 'crisis'avoided as WRAP plans progress

The impact of the Landfill Directive produced a near-crisis in the recycling world as the metal shredding industry clashed with the Environment Agency, requiring an intervention by Environment Minister Elliot Morley to resolve the problem. Overall, the key role played by WRAP has seen advances across a wide range of recycling sectors, with local authorities being briefed to help raise awareness of recycling within the community. Editor Alexander Catto reports

The recycling industry last month averted a potential crisis which threatened to shut down the processing of scrapped vehicles following a row between the metal processors and the Environment Agency over the definition of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) within the new hazardous waste regulations. At the eleventh hour Environment Minister Elliot Morley stepped in to call a meeting between the warring parties which resolved the situation and saw the recycling sector, in the shape of the British Metals Recycling Association (BRMA) expressing "sheer relief" that the legal confusion that had prevented scrapped vehicles from being processed had been resolved.

The trade association said that the metals recycling industry had come to a "complete standstill" in the days before the July 16 deadline. "This so nearly turned into a crisis, with 45,000 scrapped vehicles passing every week through the recycling pipeline", said Neil Marshall, Director General of the BRMA.

"With Elliot Morley's support," he said, "we have been able to sort out the conflicting areas of regulation and we now have a very clear and workable agreement for both the industry and the regulators.

"While I regret the fact that this problem was not resolved by the Agency very much earlier, I am relieved that we can get back into the business of turning scrapped cars into raw materials for the steel and other industries." The Agreement between Government, the metals recycling sector and the landfill industry recognises the non-metallic residues from shredded and de-polluted vehicles as non hazardous, enabling this waste to continue to be disposed of in non-hazardous landfill sites.

The metals recycling sector handles some 45,000 end of life vehicles a week, and each vehicle is now subject to stringent requirements for managing any hazardous materials generated by the recycling process. Government has acknowledged that, under the terms of the End of Life Vehicles Directive, a de-polluted vehicle is defined as non-hazardous, and materials arising that can not be currently recycled must also be considered as non hazardous. Without this agreement, these vehicles could not have been processed from Friday 16 July when the Landfill Directive was applied, and many would have been abandoned, the BRMA says.

The Environment Agency put a somewhat different spin on the outcome of the talks, stating that the vehicle dismantlers accepted the hazardous waste rules. The Agency said it was "pleased that discussions with representatives of the vehicle dismantling, metal recycling and waste management industries had resulted in a clear understanding of the environmental outcomes that need to be achieved from the disposal of residues from shredding and fragmentising processes". The Agency confirmed that, where shredders can demonstrate their waste residues are non-hazardous - either because they arise from vehicles which have been de-polluted (ie hazardous components have been removed) or from other inputs which do not contain hazardous materials, they can be disposed of in non-hazardous landfill sites.

Where vehicles have not been de-polluted, or other shredder feedstock contains hazardous materials, shredder residues should be assumed to be hazardous waste unless the operator can demonstrate they are not hazardous by an approved test. In response to industry claims that they have had difficulty in finding a suitable test to demonstrate the nature of their waste, the Agency said it would will help with defining suitable sampling and testing methodologies. The July crisis meeting between the Environment Agency, industry trade associations and government departments agreed a statement setting out criteria for proper disposal of shredder wastes which includes a three-month window during which a simplified de-pollution checklist can apply where companies have yet to develop the capability to comply with guidance issued last year.

Companies lagging behind

Liz Parkes, Head of Waste Regulation for the Environment Agency, said: "It is clear that some companies are lagging behind in their ability either to de-pollute or to be able to demonstrate satisfactorily whether their residues are hazardous or non-hazardous.

She added: " We have brought together the metal recycling industry and the waste management industry and taken account of their short term issues. "We have issued a clear statement that allows metal recycling to continue with a clear message that lagging dismantlers must improve their operations to the standards already being met by others in their industry.

In the Agency's view: "The industry has come very late to a realisation of its responsibilities in this area and the Agency cannot be pressurised by this or any other sector into risking the environment or placing the waste management industry in an unlawful position. There is a message here for any other sector which is not thinking ahead and changing its practices to minimise the production of waste."

The Agency states that, under current legislation - End of Life Vehicles Directive - waste cars must be depolluted, removing hazardous components - such as oils, batteries and other items containing heavy metals) before disposal.

The process of metal recycling, no matter how effective, results in a residue from the shredder process, also called fragmentiser waste. Shredder residues - traditionally been disposed of to landfill - are referred to as a "mirror entry" meaning that it may be hazardous or non-hazardous.

The Landfill Regulations have resulted in landfill operators being required to undertake testing before accepting most waste. Where that waste is shown to be hazardous it can, since 16 July, only be disposed of at a hazardous waste landfill.

WRAP's role expands

Overall, progress in most recycling materials sectors has been much smoother. WRAP - the Waste & Resources Action Programme - which is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the implementation of the Government's waste minimisation and recycling programme has recently reported on its record to date. The organisation, backed by substantial Government funding from DEFRA, the DTI and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, says that its latest Achievement Report covering 2003/4 shows that "solid progress" has been made.

Out of 23 targets set, 16 have been fully met and four partially met WRAP reports that by March this year, its activities were delivering 3.7 million tonnes of new recycling capacity, of which 1.7 million is completed and operational or under construction, with a best assessment of a further two million tonnes in delivery.

Highlights include successful R&D that will increase mixed plastics reprocessing by over 20,000 tonnes, the leverage of £122.9 million of additional investment in reprocessing capacity, and the development and implementation of nationally recognised standards for composted products.

The report also reviews WRAP's strong performance under the Aggregates and Organics programmes, which came on stream in 2002 and 2003, respectively, as well as reporting on early progress within the three new work programmes focused on waste minimisation, communications and collection. WRAP has been allocated approximately £30 million for a three year period for these three wider resource efficiency programmes.

The work will include a major national awareness campaign and a comprehensive programme, which form part of DEFRA's Waste Implementation Programme (WIP). Commenting on WRAP's achievements, WRAP Chairman Vic Cocker, said "All of these developments mean that the value curves for recycled materials of wood, plastics, paper and glass are moving in the right direction long term. More value means more resource efficiency which is our ultimate goal."

LAs' role in national campaign

The countdown to the start of WRAP's national recycling campaign for England began on 22 July with a pre-launch event for local authorities held in Birmingham. The consumer advertising campaign, due to kick off on 27 September, will deliver a call to action to stimulate increased participation in recycling.

At the briefing session for approaching one hundred representatives of the LAs, WRAP launched the campaign signage, including a new symbol which conveys the message, "I love recycling."

At the event, WRAP also unveiled examples of the advertising creatives that will be used in the campaign and launched a support website (www.recyclenowpartners.org.uk) which will replace the Rethink Rubbish partners site.

The web-based resource centre will help local authorities to capitalise on the national campaign and make informed decisions about the timing and content of their own initiatives over the coming 12 months.

"We have a real opportunity here to co-ordinate national, regional and local communications campaigns, and new recycling infrastructure, for maximum impact," says Gareth Lloyd, WRAP's Director Communications. "Partnership working is essential if we are to communicate the recycling message effectively and local authorities have a pivotal role to play. WRAP's aim is to provide them with every means possible to succeed."

Initially providing a toolkit for local authorities, the website will be expanded over the next few months to provide other key stakeholders, such as the retail sector, with the necessary resources to build the symbol and messages into their activities.


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