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1. Introduction

1.1 Background

The Ministry for the Environment requires investigation and reporting on the prevalence of brominated diphenyl ether (BDEs) flame retardants in manufactured articles and in recycled and waste materials. The purpose of this work is to help the Ministry assess whether it is feasible and practicable to meet Article 6 obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

BDEs (commercial penta and octaBDEs) are now listed as persistent organic pollutants under the Stockholm Convention. This designation may impact on how New Zealand manages BDE containing wastes depending on how the ‘environmentally sound management’ of these wastes is defined.

BDEs are used as flame retardants in a range of consumer products. Two key products or product components are foams (furniture, including vehicle seats etc) and hard plastics used in consumer electrical and electronic equipment (such as computers). While a proportion of BDE-containing articles may be recycled in New Zealand (including exporting for recycling) it is expected that most BDE-containing material in circulation in New Zealand are eventually disposed of to landfill.

1.2 Ministry for the Environment context for this project

The purpose of this work is to help the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment assess whether it is feasible and practicable to meet Article 6 obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in respect of the disposal of BDE-containing wastes. This study reports on the use, recycling and disposal to landfill of articles containing BDE flame retardants.

Expected Outcome: By utilising the information in the report, the Ministry will be enabled to: (i) report to the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the data compiled on the use, recycling and disposal to landfill of articles containing BDE flame retardants as requested of Parties by the Secretariat; and (ii) evaluate the implications of Article 6 of the Stockholm Convention in respect of waste disposal requirements for articles containing BDEs. Such an evaluation is needed before New Zealand could accept BDEs under the Stockholm Convention.

The work contributes to achieving Ministry’s overarching objectives: (i) to minimise environmental hazards posed by hazardous substances (that need to be managed and disposed of in ways that protect the environment and the health and safety of people);and (ii) by working through relevant international environmental organisations to meet New Zealand’s international reporting obligations.

The outputs from the work (the deliverables) will be: (i) A completed Questionnaire for submission of information on New POPs (in respect of BDEs) to the extent possible; and (ii) a report “Investigating brominated flame retardants” that addresses the objectives itemised below.

1.3 Project Objectives

The objectives of the project are:

  1. to complete the Questionnaire for submission of information on New POPs (in respect of BDEs, presented in Appendix J) to enable New Zealand to respond to the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, AND,
  2. to provide a report to the Ministry with the following information, estimates and assessments:
    1. The types and quantities of articles in New Zealand containing BDEs, including concentrations of those substances in the articles;
    2. The fate of these BDE-containing articles once they are discarded as wastes, including the proportion and/or approximate quantities disposed to landfill or recycled (including export); evidence of the presence of BDE in leachate;
    3. The types of articles being recycled, the nature and extent of this recycling (including export), and the types of articles and/or reusable materials produced from recycling;
    4. The available options for environmentally sound disposal of articles containing BDEs within New Zealand; including any requirement for leachate control;
    5. An assessment of the most practical and cost effective methods for routinely identifying the presence and levels of BDEs in waste articles and materials (e.g. in support of waste collection and disposal activities);
    6. An opinion of whether it is feasible and practical for New Zealand to meet Article 6 obligations under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

1.4 Project Perspective

Brominated Diphenyl Ethers (BDEs) are a subgroup of bromine-containing flame retardant compounds, which in turn are a segment of all flame retardant compounds. The pie chart below shows the European consumption of flame retardants in 2007. The BDEs form a segment of the ‘red pie’ the total group of brominated flame retardants (BFR).

It is interesting to note that the chloro-paraffins (Cl-Paraffins) amounting to 7% of the FR consumption are being considered for the addition to the Stockholm Convention.

Figure 1: The consumption of flame retardants in Europe, which amount to a total of 498,000 tons

Figure 1 shows a pie chart of the different types of flame retardants used in Europe in 2007. The information in the chart is set out in the following table:

Type of flame retardants Percentage (%) of total
flame retardant used
ATH (Aluminium hydroxide) 53
MDH (Magnesium dihydroxide) 4
Borates and Stannates 3
Melanine and its salts 3
Chlorinated paraffins 7
Chlorinated Phosphates 9
Brominated Flame retardants 10
Antimony trioxide 3
Phosphorus based, non-halogenated 8

The flame retardancy of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) increases with the number of bromine atoms in the molecule. Therefore only the higher brominated BDEs like Penta, Octa or Deca are of commercial interest. The general chemical formula of polybrominated diphenyl ethers is:

 

PBDEs have many congeners depending on the number and position of the bromine atoms on the two phenyl rings. The total possible number of congeners is 209, and the number of isomers for mono-, di-, tri-, tetra-, penta-, hexa-, hepta-, octa-, nona- and deca BDE are: 3, 12, 24, 42, 46, 42, 24, 3 and 1, respectively. Structural details along with relevant physical data of some of the more common BDEs as well as some of the present day, more frequently used brominated flame retardants are discussed in Appendix B.