Recyclers warned they may have to comply with EU chemicals regime

The waste industry has yet to get to grips with how it will be affected by the EU’s new REACH chemicals regime. Most recyclers believe their materials are exempt, but it looks like any recovered material defined as a ‘non-waste’ will have to be registered.

Recyclers are being warned they may have to ‘pre-register’ under the EU’s new chemicals regime, REACH. The government and industry are lobbying the European Commission for an exemption for all recovered materials, but reprocessors dealing with historic or organic wastes, or those which have ‘end-of-waste’ criteria, may fall under its requirements.

Many firms are ignorant of REACH’s staggering scope (see p 6 ).All substances manufactured, imported or placed on the EU market in amounts over 1 tonne per year will be affected. Firms using or producing these substances must submit data on their properties, how they are used and how they can be handled safely.

The Commission and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), have powers to restrict the use of dangerous substances not covered by REACH.

Pre-registration of ‘phase-in’ substances will begin in June. To pre-register, firms must name the substances in products, materials and mixtures, and identify other substances that have similar properties, among other things. Phase-in substances are all the 100,000 substances listed in the European Inventory of Existing Commercial Chemical Substances and all notified dangerous substances placed on the market since May 2004.

If pre-registration is not completed by 1 December, the substance cannot be sold or used in the EU until a full registration dossier is complete. This requires complex risk assessments along with additional information about the substance.

Under article 2.2 of the Directive, waste is exempt from REACH’s requirements. But the picture for recovered materials is less clear. Article 2.7(d) says substances resulting from recovery processes do not have to be registered if the "same substance" has been registered by someone else and so relevant safety data is available. But what "same substance" means is not exactly defined.

In a statement to ENDS, ECHA advised that recyclers should pre-register any substance in recovered materials that is also a phase-in substance. Recyclers could become exempt if another company pre-registers the same substance, but this is not guaranteed. Deciding not to could prove costly.

For those industries involved in the development of end-of-waste criteria with the Environment Agency and WRAP under their waste protocol programme, the advice is to pre-register.

End-of-waste criteria - which define when a waste becomes a useful product - are currently being developed for 16 major waste streams including compost, digestate from anaerobic digestion plants and tyres (ENDS Report 389, p 17 ). Once a substance is outside the scope of waste regulations it is inevitable that REACH will apply, the Agency said.

REACH is also likely to have an impact on companies recycling so-called historic wastes, such as waste plastics no longer manufactured with the same chemicals. Claes Walter, environment director at industry body European Plastics Converters, said the plastics industry had already decided to stay within REACH.

The body is proposing to produce a data sheet based on what is in an average tonne of plastic waste and will use that to fulfil pre-registration obligations. "It will be costly but we are prepared to do this. We have put this to the Commission, asked for an interpretation of ‘sameness’ under Article 2.7(d) and appealed for an exemption under article V," said Mr Walter.

The Commission is expected to announce a review of all exemptions under REACH by 1 June, but its decisions will have to be approved by the European Parliament as well, meaning it would not be completed before the pre-registration deadline. Mr Walter said if a ruling is not given by 30 May it will advise members to pre-register everything.

For recovery operations involving the chemical transformation of materials - such as composting and anaerobic digestion - the position is unclear. The Composting Association said discussions at the EU’s Joint Research Council suggest REACH would "probably" apply to compost.

FEAD, the European waste management industry association, is pressing for compost sold as a product to be classified as a non-hazardous natural substance and qualify for an exemption. As a last resort, the Composting Association said it will advise members to pre-register.

Representatives of the paper, metal and glass reprocessing industries told ENDS they were taking the view that their recovered materials would be exempt from REACH under the waste definition. However, ECHA is clear in its pre-registration guidance that only materials going for final disposal can be defined as waste.1 The Environment Department (DEFRA) said it was aware of the lack of clarity regarding waste. It "fully intends" to explore with the Commission how best to deliver REACH’s aims without impacting on recycling. It has appointed an official to coordinate the UK’s response to the EU on the matter.

REACH experts advise that if there is any doubt, pre-register everything (ENDS Report 388, p 45 ). The process is free of charge.

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