The European automotive manufacturers association Acea has called for a European Parliament proposal to set a concentration limit for the flame retardant decaBDE to be revised and aligned with REACH.
In plans to recast the EU's persistent organic pollutants (POPs) Regulation, the European Parliament has proposed setting a concentration limit equal to or below 10mg/kg, or 0.001% by weight, for decaBDE in substances, mixtures and articles.
However, in a statement to Chemical Watch, Acea said while this threshold is reasonable for new products made of virgin material, it is not for those completely or partly made of secondary materials. The substance, the association said, has "almost completely been phased out of all new vehicles".
"DecaBDE concentrations achieved today are in line with the existing limit value of 1,000ppm, as set under the REACH Regulation. The proposed limit value of 10ppm however would have a detrimental, negative effect on the whole recycling business and [recycling targets]," Acea said.
It said that when considering "usual production cycles", vehicles reaching end-of-life (ELVs) were designed 18-27 years ago, when decaBDE and other substances – today classified as POPs – had not been proven to be hazardous.
"The complete identification of decaBDE in plastic parts for current ELVs and ELVs in the near future is not possible," because vehicle manufacturers do not have sufficient data for parts containing the substance for older vehicles and ELVs, Acea said.
It said that even though "studies have shown that normally the concentration of decaBDE in automotive shredder residue (ASR) is below 1,000ppm, "technically it cannot be avoided that it will occur to some extent in the waste stream in Europe in the future".
The inability to recycle – as a consequence of a 10mg/kg threshold – will have a negative environmental impact, Acea said. This, it said, is because further primary material will be produced, which will require raw materials extraction and increased energy use.
"Finally, this will augment the release of [carbon dioxide] emissions and jeopardise the targets of the circular economy," it added.
European recycling industry association EuRIC recently said the Parliament's decaBDE proposal would put a stop to plastics from vehicles and electronics being recycled in Europe. It is calling for recycling materials and articles to be exempt from the concentration limit.
Chemical Watch asked European electronics trade body DigitalEurope for its response to Parliament's decaBDE proposal, but the association declined to comment "at this time".
For those countries signed up, international treaties supersede national regulations. This means the European Parliament's proposal has to align with the UN's Stockholm Convention.
At the international level, a limit-value for decaBDE and derogations under the UN's Stockholm Convention will be discussed at the Conference of the Parties of the Stockholm and Basel Conventions next year. However, at COP8 last year, an exemption for recycled materials and articles was proposed and defeated.
"This is because governments recognised that we simply cannot pollute our products with the worst chemicals in the world through recycling," Joe DiGangi, senior scientific advisor for NGO Ipen, told Chemical Watch.
It is also consistent with previous decisions made by the Convention's POP Review Committee that warned against the practice years ago, he said.
"In many ways, the recycling industry is a victim of poor decisions by chemical producers. We would welcome them as allies in pushing chemical producers to act responsibly and not produce harmful additives for products," said Dr DiGangi.
This story was updated on the 12 July to clarify that automotive shredder residue (ASR) is not a method of vehicle recycling.