Consumer Goods Contaminated by Recycled Electrical EquipmentS. Himmelstein | May 31, 2018
We are constantly being exhorted to recycle everything from beverage containers to food packaging to waste paper. Recycling is obviously a good thing, as the technology saves energy, conserves virgin materials and reduces environmental pressures associated with solid waste disposal.
And then there’s black plastic, which constitutes about 15 percent of the domestic plastic waste stream in western nations, of which the majority is single-use packaging and trays for food. This material is not readily recycled due to the low sensitivity of black pigments to near infrared radiation used in conventional plastic sorting facilities. The demand for black plastics in consumer products is now being partly met by sourcing material from the plastic housings of end-of-life waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE).
That’s the problem, according to researchers from the University of Plymouth, U,K. Inefficiently sorted WEEE plastic has the potential to introduce hazardous substances into recyclate, such as brominated flame retardants, bromine and antimony.
The levels of a range of elements in more than 600 black plastic products, such as food-contact items, storage, clothing, toys, jewelry and new and old electronic and electrical equipment were analyzed by XRF spectrometry. Bromine in the form of brominated compounds contaminant was found extensively in the non-electrical black consumer products tested. Other products contained bromine levels that potentially exceeded legal limits designed for electrical items. Lead concentrations exceeding its legal limit for electrical items were measured in toys, storage containers and office equipment.
Researchers and recyclers are advised to consider the environmental impacts and human exposure routes arising from WEEE plastic recycling and contamination of consumer goods.