EcoWaste Coalition Rejects Recycling of Products with Toxic Flame Retardants

The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocate for environmental justice, chemical safety and zero waste, today conveyed its apprehension over the European Union’s proposal to recycle products laden with toxic flame retardants.

At the ongoing United Nations-sponsored meeting of chemicals treaties in Geneva, Switzerland, the EU has pushed dangerous cleanup standards for three toxic flame retardant chemicals (HBCD, PentaBDE, and OctaBDE) that are widely used in building insulation, upholstery and electronics.

African countries and civil society groups led by IPEN, a global NGO network that includes the EcoWaste Coalition, expressed deep concern regarding the EU proposal to recycle products containing toxic flame retardants into new products such as children’s toys, food containers and soft furnishings.

The EU proposal will allow toxic recycled products to be used by EU consumers and, then exported to developing countries as waste, transferring the toxic burden from richer countries to poor countries where the capacity to deal with contaminated waste is limited and where they will potentially add to health problems and hamper poverty reduction, IPEN stated.

“We find this type of recycling unacceptable as this could lead to our children being exposed to toys and other consumer and household goods laden with toxic chemicals that can interfere with the healthy development of their bodies and brains,” said retired chemist Sonia Mendoza, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“Like the African countries, the Philippines should be wary of such dirty recycling which could result in unwanted toxic products in Europe and elsewhere being sent to local factories and disposal sites under the cover of recycling,” she added.

“The EU should instead support the call for swift elimination of flame retardant chemicals from recycling,” she said.

All three toxic chemicals are listed in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) for global elimination.

They are ubiquitous in the environment globally and can disrupt human hormone systems, creating potential adverse effects on the development of the nervous system and children’s IQ.
Ironically, the waste cleanup limit for polychorlinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other substances already listed in the Stockholm Convention is 20 times safer than the current EU proposal for flame retardants, despite the fact that they are all similarly toxic.

Citing the San Antonio Statement signed by over 200 scientists from 30 countries, the EcoWaste Coalition noted that “when
brominated and chlorinated flame retardants burn, high yields of extremely toxic brominated, chlorinated, and bromochlorinated dioxins and furans are formed, indicating that combusting waste containing certain consumer products can lead to the generation of highly toxic substances that have been found in human milk, food, and dust.”

Expert advisors to the EU noted that under the EU proposal, none of the current PentaBDE wastes would qualify for cleanup. The EU appears to be designing a standard to avoid cleanup actions on the world’s most toxic chemicals.

Jindrich Petrlik from Arnika Association said: “As an EU-based public interest NGO we find it shameful to see the EU violating the integrity of the Stockholm Convention, and putting economic interests before human health and the environment. This is poisoning the circular economy.”