Brominated Flame Retardants in Large Household Appliances

Over half of all waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected in Europe consists of large household appliances. These appliances contain a high share of plastics (10% to 15%, not including foams), which tends to increase over time due to the progressive substitution of metal by plastic parts. In line with circular economy principles, the material recycling of these plastics should be a priority. However, WEEE plastics often contain hazardous substances, previously used as additives, which need to be eliminated from the material cycles. Foremost among these legacy substances in WEEE plastics are Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), some of which are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and subject to the Stockholm Convention.

Plastics from large household appliances have long been considered free of restricted BFRs and currently do not need to be separated according to their BFR content as per WEEE treatment standards (EN 50625 series), whereas such obligations apply for plastics from other WEEE categories. With the inclusion of deca-BDE to the Stockholm Convention in 2017, this exemption has, however, been put into question. Empa was thus commissioned by the WEEE-Forum to perform a study characterizing mixed plastic fractions, issued from the mechanical treatment of large household appliances, regarding the presence of restricted BFRs. Samples were collected during mechanical batch processing in 19 WEEE treatment facilities of 7 European countries and analyzed by two independent laboratories for data validation purposes. In addition to various BFR compounds, the samples were also analyzed for several heavy metals as well as tracers of common additives in WEEE plastics. The results were gathered in report and a scientific publication is in preparation.

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Heinz Böni
Technology & Society Laboratory
Lerchenfeldstrasse 5
9014 St. Gallen
Tel. +41 58 765 78 58

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