Increased recycling leverages a suite of environmental benefits, but may also mean a heightened risk of recycling hazardous substances in society. IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and the Swedish Waste Management Association have studied a range of chemicals in goods – including the freons used in building insulation, PVC softeners and household flame retardants – to determine where they end up in the waste management chain.
– Improved knowledge in this area can lead to safer and increased recycling because unwanted chemicals can be removed more efficiently from the cycle, says Elin Belleza, waste and chemical expert at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
One challenge is the number of products present in society today that have a long lifespan and enter the waste chain many decades after they were manufactured. These products were often deemed “non-toxic” at the time they were produced, but may contain chemicals that we today want to phase out of the cycle. Examples of such products and materials are certain types of demolition waste. For example, the freon substance CFC used in foam insulation has been banned in Sweden since the mid 90's, but it is estimated that approximately 72 tonnes of CFCs from construction and demolition waste are incorrectly handled in Sweden each year.
– All those who order and carry out demolitions are responsible for ensuring that materials slated for destruction are actually destroyed and do not ‘disappear’ along the way. Regulatory authorities also have a major responsibility to effectively monitor the implementation of pertinent laws and regulations and to inform about these, says Elin Belleza.
Imported goods are another challenge. Among other things, the study has examined short-chain chlorinated paraffin (SCCP) used in household plastic products such as plasticizers and flame retardants. Despite the ban on SCCPs, the Swedish Chemicals Agency has identified several plastic products containing SCCP at banned levels, including consumer products and low-cost electronics. The import of goods probably accounts for a large proportion of the SCCPs present in Swedish plastic flows today.
The study states that improved traceability of chemicals in products could help to ensure that the ‘right thing is treated at the right place’ in the waste management chain and that products that should be handled separately because of their chemical content and not mixed with other waste streams.
– Producers have a big responsibility in this regard. As chemical legislation only restricts a small number of chemicals with hazardous properties, it is up to manufacturers to continuously apply the substitution principle, that is, replace hazardous chemicals in their products with ones that are less toxic, says Elin Belleza.
Download the report here (Swedish)
If you have any questions, please contact:
Elin Belleza, firstname.lastname@example.org, +46 (0)10- 788 65 13
About this study. Focus is on six topics or subject groups and the products in which they are used: building insulation freons, phthalates in PVC, high-fluorinated substances in paper and textiles, plastic products for household use, organophosphates in domestic electronics, zinc oxide in tires, and how these products flow in society and the way in which they are disposed of in the waste chain. The study has been co-financed by the Swedish Waste Management Association and the IVL Foundation.