A group of recyclers and concrete manufacturers has urged the Environment Agency (EA) to block the export of hazardous glass to the Netherlands following concern about environmental and economic issues.
WEEE recyclers Envirocom and SWEEEP Kuusakoski, and the British Precast Concrete Federation (BPCF), approached the EA after it gave permission to a Dutch company, A Jansen, to import cathode ray tube (CRT) glass from UK dismantlers.
A Jansen processes the glass and turns it into precast concrete blocks, called Legioblocks, which are then exported to the UK and other markets in Europe.
As products, the concrete blocks are not subject to the same control and export restriction requirements that apply to waste.
The trio says the activity undermines the UK recycling and concrete industries and could be environmentally unsound. It has support from interested MPs, including Alan Whitehead, a chair of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APRSG) (see box below).
There is no suggestion that A Jansen’s practices are contrary to the law. UK and Dutch environment authorities have confirmed to MRW that the company has all the necessary permits to carry out the work.
UK companies that have invested millions to follow the [BATRRT] law are now seriously compromised by the EA’s contradictory decision to allow export
Patrick Watts, SWEEEP Kuusakoski
However, the three complainants claim Dutch standards for the recycling of leaded glass and the manufacturing of the blocks may be inferior to those in the UK.
The group has called for the EA to withdraw A Jansen’s Transfrontier Shipment approval and to investigate what they allege is the “hazardous nature” of its blocks.
Impact on industry
In the UK three WEEE recyclers have spent around £10m in equipment for chemical and furnace lead recovery to recycle CRT glass in accordance to the Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT) regulations, concerning the separation of lead from glass.
Patrick Watts, managing director at SWEEEP Kuusakoski said that the future of a £2m furnace currently under development was being reviewed, since the company was experiencing decreasing levels of feedstock with more glass being exported to the Netherlands.
The lobbying group maintained UK manufacturers would not be allowed to carry out a similar process in this country, because it would be against the BATRRT regulations.
If the Dutch were to decide that the glass was not being properly recycled/recovered, we would, of course, revisit our approval for the export
Environment Agency spokesman
Watts said: “UK companies that have invested millions to follow the [BATRRT] law are now seriously compromised by the EA’s contradictory decision to allow export to A Jansen.”
An EA spokesperson said: “The facility accepting the waste is regulated by the competent authority, we accept the view of the Dutch authority that it is a properly regulated recycling facility.
“If the Dutch were to decide that the glass was not being properly recycled/recovered, we would, of course, revisit our approval for the export.”
For its part, the BPCF claimed to have evidence the blocks are one-third the strength of similar products.
“Every thousand tonnes of blocks supplied into the UK is preventing a thousand tonnes of UK-manufactured, safe and strong blocks being sold by our own companies,” said the Federation.
Marianne Kleingeld, sales manager at company division Jansen Recycling, said the blocks were manufactured in accordance with the international standard (NEN) EN-15258.
“During the manufacturing of the blocks samples are taken to test the compressive strength. Test results may vary though they always comply with the (NEN) EN-15258,” she said.
The lobbying group has also called for further testing on A Jansen’s blocks, and if necessary for their reclassification as hazardous material.
They claimed some tests they commissioned on the block had revealed high concentrations of zinc and lead. The test results seen by MRW indicated further testing was required to investigate whether the blocks might be hazardous at end-of-life.
MRW was not able to independently verify that the blocks submitted for testing were produced by A Jansen.
Once the fluorescent powder is removed from the CRT, the material ceases to be hazardous
Marianne Kleingeld, Jansen Recycling
The EA spokesperson said: “Once waste is turned into blocks it is not a waste product, as such it is not subject to waste regulations.”
A spokesperson for the Dutch environment ministry told MRW that the blocks had been tested and were fully compliant with all Dutch environmental regulations.
Anton Pielkenrood, director at the Dutch Precast Concrete Manufacturers Association, BFBN, said the blocks were widely used in the Dutch construction industry and his members had not complained about them.
However, he said that the association shared concerns about the end-of-life issue. He warned if the blocks are crushed by recyclers unaware of their content, the glass might be liberated and be processed in an “environmentally unsound” way.
Kleingeld said the company had a certificate from the Dutch authorities indicating the blocks comply with the Building Materials Decree: “At the end of their life they can be handled as construction waste and recycled into secondary raw materials again.”
She added that A Jansen’s process for the treatment of CRT glass was in line with Defra’s BATRRT regulations. “Once the fluorescent powder is removed from the CRT, the material ceases to be hazardous.”
MPs including Nick Boles, Helen Grant, Gordon Henderson, David Wright and David Hanson, are backing calls for a review of both the export of leaded glass from the UK and the import of concrete blocks from the Netherlands.
On 3 February 2014, APSRG chair Alan Whitehead asked Defra whether it had discussed the export of leaded glass with the EA and the import of precast concrete blocks.
Resource minister Dan Rogerson said that there had been no discussions about the issue. “It is for the EA to decide whether something meets end-of-waste criteria or constitutes an illegal waste shipment,” he said.
Whitehead said: “Millions of pounds have been invested in the UK CRT recycling and precast concrete industries in order to meet government recycling targets in addition to creating much needed green jobs. I am hopeful that Defra will resolve this issue now that they have been briefed about the implications.”