Saturday, August 20, 1994

Time to Set the Standard: An Interview with Members of the Filter Manufacturers Council

Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc., discuss the issue of oil filter recycling with the editors of The Recycling Magnet.

How often should a car’s oil and filter be changed? Once every three months or 3,000 miles. So well-known is this service station litany that it’s even recognized by those who have never owned a vehicle.

With an estimated 123 million passenger cars crisscrossing America’s network of reads, greater attention is being paid to the disposal of used oil filters. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that used oil filters are considered solid waste rather than hazardous waste. Since that time, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas have introduced more stringent legislation banning the landfilling of used oil filters. Legislation adopted in a fourth state,
California, considers used oil filters hazardous waste unless recycled.

Since it is likely that government regulation of used oil filter management will increase, we wondered what kind of recycling infrastructure presently exists for used oil filters and what is being done to develop it. Undertaking the initiative to develop the infrastructure is the Filter Manufacturers Council (FMC), an organization representing 20 manufacturers of vehicular and industrial filtration products with facilities in the United States. What follows is our interview with Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc.

With so man service stations and quick oil change centers out there, it seems that the average person rarely comes in contact with oil filters. What are oil filters and are they recyclable?

GG: Nearly every motorized vehicle, from large lawn mowing tractors to automobiles to mining equipment, has an oil filter to remove contaminants and deposits that accumulate in the oil as it circulates through an engine. These filters must be replaced every three months or 3,000 miles to ensure proper functioning. As a result, there are about 400 million used oil filters generated each year in the United States, ranging from small filters about two inches in height for import vehicles to giant filters 17 or 18 inches in height for construction equipment. Fortunately, oil filters are at least 80 percent steel by weight. This steel cartridge or body is what makes the oil filter recyclable. High quality steel is used to make oil filters and, like other steel products, is infinitely recyclable into new steel.

TW: And actually, while the majority of oil filters are commercially installed, about 45 percent of all passenger car filters are sold to consumers who change their own oil. This represents millions of people who have the opportunity to recycle both their used oil and the filter.

What are some of the challenges to developing the used oil filter recycling infrastructure?

TW: Currently, there are no standard specifications for processing used oil filters. Processors use different approaches, ranging from crushing to shredding, to prepare the filter for recycling. In some cases, used oil filters are processed at the generation site and shipped directly to steel mills. In others, the filters are first sent to a secondary processor with specialty equipment, then shipped to end market. Properly processed, oil filters can be a valuable recyclable commodity. Maximizing oil extraction from the filter is the essential processing step.

GG: The whole key here is to determine what form of processed oil filters is most acceptable to steel mills. We are asking the steel companies that supply oil filter manufacturers with steel what level of processing should be performed to best prepare oil filter scrap for recycling. Once we determine what the mills want, we can develop appropriate industry guidelines for oil filter processing.

What kind of recycling infrastructure exists for recycling oil filters?

TW: We are aware of about 700 companies that are possible involved in some level of oil filter recycling. Some of these companies are special processors dealing exclusively with used oil filters. Others are traditional ferrous scrap processors, and still others are recyclers of used oil that also collect filters.

GG: We have created a toll-free hotline/database to encourage the proper management of used oil filters and assist in the development of the oil filter recycling infrastructure. This number, 1-800-99-FILTER (993-4583), is available only to commercial and government generators of used oil filters. The hotline provides callers with information on companies that provide filter management and recycling services as well as summaries of regulations governing the management of used oil filters for the U.S., each of the fifty states, and the Canadian provinces.

How many oil filters are currently being recycled?

GG: Statistics are difficult to obtain because filters enter the solid waste stream in different ways. Some steel mills receive used oil filters with auto shred, and some receive them with the steel recovered from magnetic separation at resource recovery facilities.

TW: We can account for approximately 20 million oil filters that were recycled in 1993, about five percent of all generated. These statistics are derived from mills, such as TAMCO in California, that specifically record how many tons of filters they accept for recycling. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if as many as 20 percent were being recycled right now.

How can recycling coordinators, government officials and others involved in solid waste management help motivate the recycling of oil filters?

TW: Both public and private sector cooperation will be needed to develop an efficient collection system for used oil filters. Certainly, we would like to see government recycling officials become involved in the development of oil filter recycling programs, especially in the area of public education and collection program support. For example, government sponsored recycling programs are already in place in many area for used oil generated by do-it-yourselfers.

GG: Also, it is essential at this stage of infrastructure development that our steel suppliers relay to us their oil filter scrap specifications. Oil filter manufacturers are seeking the responsible disposal of the product they market, as any environmentally-conscious manufacturer should, with recycling being the preferred option.

Wednesday, August 3, 1994

Recycling Steel Appliances

Can one live in a home without appliances? Think about it - refrigerators keep our food fresh, water heaters keep our showers hot, and washers keep our clothes clean. Air conditioners, dryers, ranges, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and freezers are all convenient, time and labor saving appliances we’ve come to depend on.

Fortunately, these appliances are not solid waste problems and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have to worry about having homes without appliances. All appliances are made with steel and are recyclable. Despite the fact that appliances are bulky and contain various electrical and mechanical parts, they are almost as easy to recycle as steel cans. Many communities have established temporary or permanent collection programs to ensure that appliances do not enter the municipal solid waste stream. In addition, a network of ferrous scrap processors, shredders and steel mills processes and recycles appliances.

Since 1990, the national recycling rate for major home appliances as risen from 32 percent to 62 percent due in part to increased private and public sector awareness and the continuing development of a strong infrastructure for recovery of ferrous scrap from appliances. More than 1.6 million tons of steel was recovered from recycled appliances in 1993.

Processing Steel

By weight, the typical appliance consists of about 75 percent steel, which is largely why 1,600 scrap processors across the country accept them for recycling. Processors typically remove components, such as electric motors, switches and other mechanical parts, from the appliances before recycling. If the appliance contains refrigeration or cooling equipment, refrigerant gases must be captured and recycled. Motors and capacitors are also appropriately handled.

Once dismantled, appliance shells are hoisted onto a conveyor belt, which feeds the appliances to a shredder. Shredded steel is magnetically separated from any remaining material and conveyed into a rail car or truck for shipment to steel mills and foundries. Nonferrous metals, such as copper and aluminum, are sometimes also removed and recycled. The remaining material, referred to as fluff, is accumulated for disposal at landfill or other disposition, such as resource recovery combustion.

Extra Processing Steps

A piece of legislation enacted more than 20 years ago has significantly altered the way appliances are processed today. Originally passed in 1970, the Clean Air Act was America’s first comprehensive legislation to cover emission of pollutants to the air.

The act was later updated to reflect the goals of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This international agreement was signed by more than 100 nations and requires each country to cut its production of ozone depleting substances in half by 1998. Later, the Protocol was amended to include the complete phaseout of the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 1995.

As a result, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that, prior to recycling or disposal, any refrigerant gases that are deemed as ozone depleting and found in appliances must be captured for recycling. CFCs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), both considered ozone-depleting coolants, are only found in appliances designed to refrigerate or cool. The CFCs and HCFCs that are reclaimed are cleaned and reused in the maintenance and repair of other units. In some areas, scrap dealers have the CFC removal equipment and certified technicians for these procedures. In other areas, specialty business and scrap dealers provide this service, either independently, or in association with appliance dealers or the local government.

In either case, processors who are involved in the recycling of appliances are responsible for ensuring that the refrigerant gases have been reclaimed.

PCB Capacitors

Appliances often contain capacitors, which are electronic circuit devices for temporary storage of electrical energy.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a carcinogen, are oily fluids used as electrolytic substances in a small percentage of capacitors produced prior to the year 1979. PCBs were used in some capacitors for air conditioners and microwave ovens and, much less often, for refrigerators and freezers.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1968 banned the production and sale of PCBs after 1978 but allowed small capacitors used in household appliances to remain in service. Since the average life span of an appliance is 15 years, less than five percent of all appliances processed for recycling in 1988 contained PCB capacitors, according to the EPA. That small percentage is in all likelihood smaller today as many of these appliances have been disposed of or recycled.

Landfill Bans

As of 1994, to avoid future disposal of appliances in landfills, 19 states banned or planned to ban appliances from landfills. The states initiated the bans in order to extend the life of their landfills and to encourage private industry and the public sector to implement recycling of appliances.

The following states have instituted landfill bans on white goods or have made related appliance rulings: California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Steps to Setting up an Appliance Recycling Day

Communities interested in promoting awareness of the recyclability of appliances and the proper disposal method should consider developing an appliance recycling day. The steps involved include the following:

(1) Identify a planning committee. A committee might consist of local government, waste haulers, ferrous scrap processors, electric utilities and interested community groups.

(2) Identify a scrap dealer and equipment company to handle and process appliances. If you need help locating either, contact the SRI.

(3) Select the date, time and location for the event. Recommended lead time is at least six months.

(4) Coordinate public awareness. A catchy title (like “Heavy Metal Recycling”) will attract more attention, both from the public and the media. Be sure to send press releases to the media and informational fliers to residents. Consider asking a local utility company to send fliers in monthly bills.

(5) Educate residents about permanent recycling opportunities. To ensure that residents continue to recycle appliances, be sure to promote local companies that regularly collect, process and recycle appliances. When residents know where to take their appliances, they are less likely to dispose of them improperly.