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Tonnes of waste cartridges buried for a thousand years?

Tonnes of waste cartridges buried for a thousand years?

January 28, 2022

Were tonnes of waste cartridges classified as hazardous waste and landfilled, rather than treated as WEEE?

In June 2020, The Recycler reported that three people were being investigated for crimes against the environment, for the seizure of property and for belonging to a criminal organisation. 

Operation “Murton” was launched by the Civil Guard in the Murcia region in South East Spain. Following a raid of a clandestine warehouse in Baños y Mendigo (Murcia) 5,000 tons of used printer toner cartridges were discovered by the Spanish Civil Guard.

This case is still going through the courts, so we cannot comment on the current status. In the meantime, we can ask:

Where did the estimated 5,000 tonnes of waste cartridges go?

Built in 1972, the 3200m2 warehouse, located at Nave en venta en c. san javier, 4, Baños Y Mendigo, Murcia is currently for sale by Servihabitat real estate services for €465,600 ($518,299).

The Servihabitat real estate services business is 80% owned by the private equity fund Lone Star and 20% by Spain’s Caixa Bank. We contacted the company to ask, “Can you confirm if the waste toners were correctly disposed of according to WEEE regulations, or sent to landfill?”  

Servihabitat told The Recycler: “The empty cartridges were collected by [an]authorised company and disposed of in accordance with the regulations.” They did not clarify whether the cartridges were treated as WEEE or sent to landfill.

Estimates for 5,000 tonnes of waste cartridges under WEEE regulations would range between €3 million to €4 million ($3.34 million to $4.45 million), but that could double if any cartridges tested positive for pollutants like decaBDE.

Sending the cartridges to a landfill site would be considerably cheaper and costs would range between €750,000 to €1.2 million ($835,000 to $1.33 million).

The Recycler understands that the cartridges were collected by the company GITICSA. The company did not respond when contacted by The Recycler to confirm that they did collect the waste toners and to ascertain whether the waste toners were correctly disposed of according to WEEE regulations, or sent to landfill?

A person familiar with the clearance project explained [translated from Spanish] “that they collect the cartridge with the hazardous code 080317 and they have sent it to a hazardous waste landfill.”

Adding “They know that cartridges are WEEE but they use the hazardous code because the landfill is cheaper than WEEE treatment.”

The hazard waste code 080317 refers to waste printing toner containing hazardous substances, but according to a 2021 report by M Parthasarathy, Challenges and Emerging Trends in Toner Waste Recycling. “When unused and waste toners are dumped into the landfill, they pollute air and ground water easily due to their fine particle size (8–10 mm). With the threatening respiratory pandemic, COVID-19, it is important to maintain a hygienic pollution-free environment. In a recent study, the risk of hospitalization of COVID-19 positive patients was found to be higher when exposed to particulate emissions. Even the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is higher in areas with air polluted with particulate emissions.

Toner cartridges sent to landfill have a very slow decomposing rate ranging between 450 to 1000 years depending on the cartridge type because the plastics used in printer cartridges are made of an engineering grade polymer that have a very slow decomposing rate.[i]

The Recycler contacted the authorities in Murcia to ask if they were aware that the waste cartridges have been collected and if the waste toners had been correctly disposed of according to WEEE regulations, or were they sent to landfill?  They responded [translated from Spanish] “This issue is in court. We do not have data or open file in the General Directorate of the Environment.

Our take on this: Landfill is an easy and cheap solution but does not solve the problem that would be corrected by the correct WEEE processing of the cartridges. In an ideal world the cartridges should be recovered from the landfill site and processed correctly.

But this story is about the problem of dealing with abandoned WEEE waste where too many are free riding their extended producer responsibilities and obligations and fail to register and pay the appropriate fees.  Landfilling, is burying the problem for a 1000 years, not solving it.

One thing is for sure, sending WEEE to landfill should never be cheaper than the cost of correct processing.

 

[i] Remanufacturing for Sustainable Development: Key Challenges, Elements, and Benefits Hari Vasudevan, Vilas Kalamkar, and Ravi Terkar, Member, IEDRC

Categories : World Focus

Tags : Landfill Spain Toner Cartridges WEEE

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