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BLOG: Another first for Ireland - 'Type 3' WEEELABEX Treatment

   Mon, 22nd Feb, 2021

In our February Blog, KMK Metals Recycling’s Compliance Manager, Olivia Brennan, announces some big news for the company as we continue to set the benchmark for top-quality WEEE recycling in Ireland, with a constant focus on protecting the environment and advancing a circular economy.


I am delighted to share the news that KMK Metals Recycling have just become Ireland's first and only 'Type 3' WEEELABEX-Certified Treatment Operator. “Just what is WEEELABEX and why is this ‘Type 3’ such a big deal?” you may ask. Well, WEEELABEX (the ‘WEEE Label of Excellence’) is a series of comprehensive European standards that detail requirements on all aspects surrounding the treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).


KMK Metals Recycling is mandated to treat WEEE collected from our customers to this standard as specified in the national WEEE Regulations, S.I. No. 149 of 2014 (Article 22). KMK Metals Recycling were, in fact, the first company in Ireland to attain WEEELABEX attestation way back in 2014, truly setting the standard for compliant WEEE treatment in Ireland.


The WEEELABEX Organisation defines a ‘Type 3’ operator as “a facility that receives fractions or components that require further advanced (mechanical) treatment including some or all de-pollution”. The process that was just certified as ‘Type 3’ WEEELABEX-certified is situated at our facility in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath and relates to the refinement of WEEE plastics. 


In order to receive ‘Type 3’ approval, we were thoroughly audited late last year by an experienced team at Really Green Credentials Ltd., an independent organisation whose auditors have undergone specific training and are listed as approved auditors by the WEEELABEX Organisation. As part of this audit, we had to run batch tests to demonstrate to the auditors exactly how our processes work, validate that we de-pollute WEEE satisfactorily and show that our end-fractions are sent to fully authorised and specialist outlets for further treatment.


Following our re-certification, we also remain fully certified as a ‘Type 1’ and ‘Type 2’ operator for Mixed Equipment, Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) display appliances and Flat Panel Display (FPD) equipment, which essentially means that we also meet the standards requirements with both our manual and mechanical treatment activities of these WEEE streams.


The WEEELABEX Standard (which also incorporates the requirements of the more recently published European CENELEC EN Series Standards) lays down measures related to the protection of the environment and human health and safety through the prevention and mitigation of the adverse impacts from the collection and treatment of WEEE.


I do not believe the significance of waste plastics can be understated given the amount we hear about them on the news and via social media. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them at end-of-life. Plastics also contribute to global warming as almost all plastic is made from fossil fuels.


Poorly treated plastics are bad news for the environment and human health for a number of reasons. Plastics from WEEE contain contaminants or additives (fillers, flame retardants, stabilizers, etc.), which need to be properly treated by WEEE plastics recycling facilities. The most frequently used restricted additives in WEEE are brominated flame retardants (BFRs). BFR’s keep WEEE fireproof but can persist when released into the environment, resulting in harmful effects on humans and animals. Additives may also adversely affect the quality of recyclates (e.g. stiffness, brittleness, thermal stability, shrinkage, impact strength).


A large fraction of WEEE plastics do not reach European recyclers. Instead, they are shipped to developing countries who are likely to have sub-standard or non-existent WEEE collection and treatment systems. This can lead to plastics entering our environment by wind and rain into drainage networks or rivers that are then transported to sea. Vast quantities of tiny plastic pellets used to produce plastic products, known as nurdles or mermaid’s tears, along with other plastics, and most concerning, microplastics, are seen to be washed up on beaches and polluting our oceans every year. 


Plastics containing high loads of additives are not suitable for recycling. Removal of plastics with high loads of additives (through density sorting in most cases) is therefore inherent to WEEE plastics recycling and the WEEELABEX Standard. Regardless of the BFR content, the WEEE Directive clearly states in Annex VII that plastics containing restricted BFRs must always be segregated from collected WEEE and separately treated.


WEEE plastic recycling facilities have an important responsibility to produce Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) plastics that are compliant with product standards known as REACH and RoHS. They do this by separating any plastics containing restricted substances which are non-recyclable. These contaminated plastics are properly disposed of by proper thermal treatment (incineration). Treatment of plastics from WEEE, including the removal of contaminants requires major investment in large high-tech recycling facilities. Such treatment facilities therefore need to treat large volumes of WEEE plastics to operate successfully. In many national markets, like here in Ireland, there are not sufficient volumes of plastics available to justify such an investment which requires the shipment of theses plastics to other EU member states. 


At KMK Metals Recycling, the protection of the environment has always been our number one priority and an inherent part of our business model. As such, attaining ‘Type 3’ WEEELABEX certification, aligns closely with our goal to sustain and enhance our environmental performance. 


At our Kilbeggan plant, plastic fractions from Mixed Appliances undergo an advanced screening process to segregate metal impurities and sort plastics into different grades. Additive-poor WEEE plastics can be turned into valuable regranulates while additive-rich WEEE plastics are suitably identified and sent for appropriate treatment.


Once treated to this high standard, our plastics are then sent to approved and dedicated plastic recycling outlets in Europe that convert plastics into valuable raw materials (regranulates) to be used in new products. This is where we close the gap in the plastics chain, ensuring a circular economy in Europe that protects our natural resources and environment from marine litter. 


Recycling WEEE plastics has major advantages, as the energy needed for producing these PCR plastics is only a fraction of the energy used to produce virgin plastics. The reduction in carbon emissions is shown to be enormous. 


The technology is available and a more sustainable alternative to plastic production only makes sense given the alternative non-renewable option. Engaging in ways to reduce virgin plastic production in exchange for ‘green’ PCR plastics is a key environmental challenge of our time and there is a need for individuals, industry and governments to work together if damage to the environment and people's health is to be minimised.


Our WEEELABEX certificates are made available to download from our website’s “Audit Us” section: https://www.kmk.ie/documents/ 


KMK Metals Recycling can also be found listed as a certified WEEELABEX operator under both its facilities on the WEEELABEX website: https://www.weeelabex.org/conformity-verification/operators/ 


The WEEELABEX organisation is a stand-alone accredited legal entity, headquartered in Prague, that manages the training of auditors, the monitoring of auditing activities and the approved (list) ‘WEEELABEX operators’. For further information on the WEEELABEX organisation, please see their website: https://www.weeelabex.org/ 
 

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