Companies recycling LCD units will have to dismantle them manually, unless they can prove their system complies with specific regulations.
A regulatory position statement from the Environment Agency (EA), published this month, states that there will be a presumption that manual dismantling is the only way of achieving compliance with the treatment standards established by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.
But mechanical treatment, such as shredding, may be allowed if the recycler can prove its system is able to remove the LCDs and contain the mercury in “a similar degree of protection” for health and the environment set out in the Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT) guidance.
Companies treating LCD units mechanically have until June 2012 to demonstrate their systems to the EA. After this deadline, those unable to prove they comply with BATRRT may face action.
The position statement says: “There has been some debate over whether the mercury from cold cathode fluorescent lamps can be adequately captured by mechanical means…On the basis of a recent WRAP research report (see MRW story), we have concluded it is likely that only manual treatment of LCDs will result in a realistic chance of capturing the mercury from individual lamps.”
Axion Consulting was commissioned to carry out research for the WRAP report. It found that bulk shredding and mercury washing of LCDs could not guarantee the complete removal of the mercury. The latest study found mercury bonded to electrodes at the end of the lights and was not just present in the powder.
Axion group director Keith Freegard said: “It seems to be that any liquid washing would not remove the bonded mercury. From the research, it seems that the EA statement is correct and wholly appropriate for the hazardous nature of this recycling.
“Bulk shredding of WEEE items has been accepted as recycling for minimal cost per tonne. I think there needs to be rigorous enforcement of WEEE operators who think they can adapt shredding equipment to treat LCD equipment.”
Recycling Lives is believed to be the first dedicated FPD processing centre in England. Strategic development manager David Allen said: “We support the EA’s decision. We use a manual dismantling technique because, working in conjunction with a local university, research suggested it would be difficult to account for all the mercury present in the product, partly as a result of bonded mercury.”
Comment: WRAP sustainable products programme manager Gerrard Fisher
In ouroriginal project, we set out to demonstrate a bulk treatment process for LCD TVs. Although we were successful in demonstrating separation of most materials we were unable to accurately assess the location of mercury in shredded material or demonstrate that it was adequately and safely removed (full details in the report, in summary we removed lamps from TVs, shredded the TVs, and then repatriated the lamps with shred to trial a washing process).
To get a better understanding on the mercury we commissioned lab trials to determine the nature and location of mercury in waste LCD backlights. This research identified a range of forms that mercury can take, and helped us to understand why our own washing trials were not successful in locating mercury in shredded LCD TVs. Based on these findings, we believe that a bulk treatment process could face challenges in isolating the various forms of mercury and demonstrating effective isolation. It is possible that some recyclers have already addressed this issue.
Many recyclers are already dismantling of cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs manually, so this manual approach is not new. However, LCD TVs present different challenges for dismantling and studies from across the world indicate that dismantling times are longer, so labour cost per unit is likely to increase. Control measures to protect recycling operatives from mercury hazards are also different to those required for the disassembly of CRTs.
LCD TVs are also much more fragile than CRT TVs, so require more careful handling through collection and transportation to a recycler. WRAP is updating its Good Practice Guidance on collection and treatment of WEEEto include examples of good practice in LCD TV handling.