07 Nov BSEF presents new study on brominated flame retardants in WEEE plastics and their integration into Europe’s Circular Economy
We at the International Bromine Council (BSEF) are proud to officially present our new study “Brominated Flame Retardants and the Circular Economy of WEEE Plastics”.
Developed in collaboration with dss+, renowned sustainability experts, the report reveals key insights into the present state of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) plastics recycling in Europe, showing how BFR-containing WEEE are currently integrated in the circular economy and proposing key recommendations on how to make electronic waste recycling more efficient and sustainable.
Considering that the global chemicals production is expected to double by 2030, and that the European Union is undergoing a thorough revision of its chemical legislation to better protect citizens and the environment while boosting innovation for safe and sustainable chemicals, we think there is no better time to showcase the circularity and sustainability of BFRs, demonstrating our industry’s commitment to actively contribute to the Circular Economy – and the call for a more sustainable future.
In this sense, when diving deeper into the data, good news can be found. For instance, interviews with WEEE plastic recyclers support the notion that BFR plastics are well-controlled and easily sorted during conventional recycling processes. Specialized firms can currently eliminate >95% of BFRs in these plastics, and new techniques such as solvent-based recycling, thermolysis, and gasification are showing potential in converting plastics to fundamental elements and fresh materials. However, they’re not without their own sets of challenges, such as cost, scalability and the need to ensure compatibility with existing recycling infrastructure.
The research also shows a consistent and continuous decline in the levels of restricted, no longer produced, BFRs in WEEE plastic streams, which is an encouraging signal for environmental safety. Nowadays, WEEE plastics contain an average of 3.5% BFR-containing plastics, with 3.2% being non-restricted, and only 0.2% being PBDE-containing plastics, which is even further on the decline.
Stepping back, a more challenging landscape emerges when looking at the fate of WEEE plastics in Europe, where a staggering 2.6 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated annually. Unfortunately, only 54% (1.4 million tonnes) is collected through official channels, and only 15% is sent to specialized recyclers. This means that most WEEE plastics escape through undocumented, unregulated channels, either treated as scrap metal or disposed of with mixed waste or exported outside Europe – often illegally – raising concerns about unsafe recycling practices.
Additional hurdles can come from some of the proposed EU and international regulatory changes. By leading to higher expenses and administrative burdens, these regulations could potentially obstruct the effective handling of WEEE plastics and make their recycling and cross-border waste trade more difficult.
Overall, in order to overcome these obstacles and pave the way to the Circular Economy, we will need to:
- Raise Awareness: Through campaigns, convenient collection points and mandatory collection targets that can enhance the separate collection of WEEE, thereby ensuring proper disposal of BFRs and the reuse of plastic waste, also helping prevent illegal exports.
- Harmonise Regulations: Common and consistent rules at the international level can ease the recycling process by avoiding conflicting requirements.
- Invest in Innovation: R&D support can lead to promising alternative recycling methods.
- Harness Data: A centralised database can inform the development of new technologies and regulations.
- Collaborate: Facilitate collaboration between WEEE recyclers and manufacturers to promote the use of recycled plastics in new products
Curious to learn more? In addition to reading the full study here, you can also watch the full video recording of our dedicated seminar here, which took place on 9 October 2023 and where the study’s findings were presented, with introductory and closing remarks from Bob Miller, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs of Albemarle & Chairman of the Board of BSEF, our own Secretary General Michael Hack and Sander Kroon of ICL Group and BSEF Advocacy / Recycling WG Chair.
 Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are a class of no longer manufactured flame retardants, which were phased out when found persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment