Waste shredder plants: Regulations, challenges, and solutions

Waste shredder plants: Regulations, challenges, and solutions

By Dhiraj Krishna Kumar

Every year, cities produce up to 2.1 billion tons of solid waste, with metal waste accounting for around 4% of that total. In an attempt to minimize the amount of waste going into landfills, waste is sorted into different categories. These categories include ferrous, non-ferrous, plastics, among others. The metal waste shredder separates metals from non-metals, allowing the recovery of materials that can be recycled and reused. 

Waste shredding has emerged as an important component of sustainability, the energy transition, and the circular economy. However, despite the value of the metal shredder, many are under public scrutiny due to the lack of regulations and the noise and pollution they produce. As a result, the number of metal shredder facilities is declining due to shutdowns. In this article, we provide an overview of the challenges and regulations from the EU, UK, and US, in addition to new technologies in place to mitigate or address some of the challenges. 

Waste Facts and FiguresImage: Waste Facts and Figures. Data Source: Statista ( Annual Waste Generation, Electronic Waste GenerationPercentage of Total Waste as Metal, Market Size for Waste management)

How is waste shredding regulated?

Even though waste shredders are important for the environment and the economy, there should be rules and regulations that reduce or limit damage to the environment and the people who live nearby. 

For example, the Directive (EU) 2018 of the European Parliament sets out the rules for managing waste in the EU. The EU follows the “prevention is better than cure” approach to waste disposal, and this includes waste shredding, of course. The main principles lie in reducing the generation of waste, recycling it, and re-using it as much as possible. And the new approach emphasizes the role of waste resource efficiency in the energy transition and the circular economy

In the UK, the metal waste shredder regulations were recently updated in October 2021. The new measures include required treatments; general management processes; waste acceptance and tracking practices; storage and segregation mechanisms; emission limits and control; and process efficiency methods for metal waste handling. 

In the US, waste regulations are governed federally by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or the Clean Air Act (CAA)  guidelines. Later, changes were made to the CAA to build a comprehensive air program to address the potential regulatory overlap between the CAA and RCRA. One of the major changes in the Clean Air Act is that protecting the environment and human health takes precedence over other considerations.

In the State of California, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)  has been working on the classification of metal and non-metal waste output in shredding facilities. The report has deemed that metal aggregate from shredders will not be considered scrap metal by law. The California Hazardous Waste Control Law states that a permit is needed to throw away residue from metal aggregates. This is because the residue is dangerous and would make the metal aggregates subject to the law.

Why metal waste shredder plants are closing down:

Most scrap yards and landfills aren’t close to homes because the process of sorting trash can make noise and release dangerous and possibly toxic gases and chemicals. Therefore, the primary reasons for the shutting down of waste shredder plants in the US and other parts of the world have been related to noise and odor pollution, emissions, and public health concerns. 

In recent years, there have been fires in shredding units. This caused the public to demand that these plants be shut down and stopped the necessary approvals for new plants from being given. Also, the public’s doubt that existing shredder plants will be able to meet the new rules and regulations makes the future of the plants even more complicated.  

What can be done?

There are a number of steps that waste shredding plants can take to clean up their act both literally and figuratively.

Regain public trust

The main thing shredding units could do to fix the problem would be to get the public to trust them again. The Purified Metal Company (PMC), an innovation startup, addresses some of these worries in their ads for their plant that turns scrap steel into raw materials. 

Mitigation from the get-go

Another solution would be to build plants that mitigate people’s concerns as Emirates RDF has done with BMH’s Tyrannosaurus tech for waste-to-energy generation. As we move forward with climate action, we must prioritize the public’s engagement and the welfare of living beings while conducting new plant feasibility studies. 

BMH's Tyrannosaurus technologyImage: Illustration of the BMH’s Tyrannosaurus Technology  
Source: BMH Waste to Energy Tech – Tyrannosaurus ©

Reduce noise pollution

When it comes to using waste shredder machines, the main goal is to make the machines as quiet as possible and get rid of as much pollution and dust as possible. In the UK, the regulations state that machines should be placed farther away from people’s homes and that they should have acoustic screens and vibration insulation installed. Many of these directives have been in place for some time, and their adherence has been more stringent. 

Cutting emissions

Also, for waste recovery plants to work, they now need filtration technology to cut down on emissions. Better filtration technologies can change the game by making things cheaper (long-lasting filter bags) and safer (fewer dioxins and particulate matter are released into the air). 

Data-driven solutions

Moreover, collecting data can help improve the performance of shredding plants, energy audits, and audits done by regulatory agencies and the general public. Artificial Intelligence can help collect data, but that’s not all it can do. 

The power of artificial intelligence could also make it easier to collect, sort, process, and get rid of trash. Therefore, in both the near and far future, AI, Digital Twins, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will play a major role in making the industry more sustainable. 

Closing thoughts:

Historically, waste metal recycling has been of great importance, whether by the Romans, who recycled bronze coins or during the times when scrap metal was melted to build planes. Up until nowadays, waste metal recycling is of vital use in many industries, including automobiles, aircraft, shipbuilding, and many more.

Metal shredding is necessary to reduce the amount of scrap metal, reach the goal of recycling, and get back valuable materials. This is because the metal will only be manageable after it has been shredded and its size has been cut down. So, it is important to keep the shredder plants from closing by reducing the damage they do to the environment and the health of living things. 

Image Credits: Proggie, Flickr. License type: Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at solutions@prescouter.com.

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