The Environment Agency (EA) is to reiterate its position on handling of waste fridges to the metal recyclers in response to concerns that valuable compressors are being illegally removed.
Groups such as the British Metals Recycling Association and the Industry Council for Electronics Recycling (Icer) will be contacted by the EA.
As exclusively reported by MRW, a meeting of Icer heard that the EA had responded to concerns from fridge recyclers Envrioncom over the level of illegal activity.
Fridge compressors contain valuable metal and can be dangerous if not correctly dealt with.
Environcom chief executive Sean Feeney has estimated that 75,000 tonnes of fridges are processed outside EA guidance. Concerned over the impact on his business, he contacted the EA to ask them what action they would take.
A response document seen by MRW revealed the EA will “re-engage” with the BMRA and Icer.
It said: “The purpose of this re-engagement will be to remind them of the position we set out in 2013 on fridges and also to confirm our position on the management of fridge compressors and that in certain cicumstances fridge compressors will need to be managed as hazardous waste.
“Our expectation is that liaison with these groups will result in our position being cascaded to their membership.”
The EA’s original briefing note issued in 2013 said that “reports of poor practice at waste management facilities involving the deliberate damage/puncturing of cooling circuits and removal of compressors before they have been fully degassed and drained”.
Also at the Icer meeting, the EA said it would ensure that compliance officers are fully trained to identify breaches in WEEE regulation.
The agency confirmed that incorrectly handled compressors will be defined as hazardous waste, and it will contact approved WEEE exporters to assess compressors under their authority.
The following is extracted from answers provided by the EA in response to concerns from WEEE reprocessors that some operators were not following the rules.
Question: There is clear evidence that the guidelines for fridge recycling published over a year ago are not being followed, will the EA be re-communicating those guidelines and make it clear that any operator found not to be complying with the guidelines will be subject to enforcement action?
Answer: We are advising officers that when inspecting sites managing waste metals to be alert to any fridge compressors on site and to seek to determine whether the compressors have been correctly depolluted of hazardous materials.
We will also re-engage with two key industry groups on this matter, British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) and the Industry Council for Electronics Equipment Recycling (ICER).
Our expectation is that liaison with these groups will result in our position being cascaded to their membership.
Q: Will this include the clear advice that if fridge components or carcasses are seen to be contained within the general light iron pile that enforcement action will be taken?
A: Fridge carcasses appearing in light iron waste streams would suggest that our position outlined in 2013 is not being followed. We have reminded our officers that where fridge carcasses are observed to be in the light iron waste stream further investigation is required to determine if they are being appropriately managed and treated.
Q: There is clear evidence that fridge compressors are being removed illegally venting gases into the atmosphere and potentially polluting the ground with the oil. Will the EA be providing clarification that compressors that are not removed following the best available treatment (BATRRT) using the correct equipment that captures the gases and the oils will be treated as hazardous waste.
A: We will be discussing directly with the known exporters who are approved under the WEEE regulations the need to assess the compressors they are handling to determine whether they are hazardous waste or not.
Q: Will the EA be undertaking desktop monitoring of sites to ensure that all aspects of the hazardous waste regulations are adhered to?
A: We will be directing our officers to be particularly vigilant of this issue during routine inspections of permitted facilities.
Q: What are the timescales for these steps to be taken by the Environment Agency and how will the Environment agency communicate this information?
A: We have been contacted by MRW to comment on this matter, again we will be outlining our position and expectations with regards to the what we regard as the compliant position for the treatment of fridges and compressors removed from fridges.