The Importance of Scrap-metal Recycling to California’s Environment
The scrap-metal recycling industry in California has been operating safely – and largely out of view of the average resident – for 50 years. The industry and its important environmental functions predate the establishment of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and its predecessors, which began in the early 1980s.
Now, the Department, according to its own official documents and without reference to any legal authority, is planning to classify metal-recycling plants as “hazardous waste treatment” facilities, and force the operators of these facilities to seek hazardous waste treatment permits for their metal processing operations. Completely illogically, and contrary to decades of precedent, the Department now claims that the mixture of materials produced by the metal shredding operation is a “hazardous waste” and that the industrial processes used to separate and sort valuable ferrous and nonferrous metals from this mixture constitutes “treatment” of that “hazardous waste.” In a report issued in 2018, the Department plainly states it will establish “enforceable requirements for metal shredding facilities through a hazardous waste permit.”
Consider the following points about the potential impact of this bureaucratic and regulatory overreach:
- During the entire life of the Department of Toxic Substances Control, and its several predecessors in state government, the metal recycling process has NEVER been designated or regulated as hazardous-waste treatment, and scrap metal itself has never been classified as hazardous under either state or federal law.
- In fact, California regulations expressly state that scrap metal is NOT a hazardous waste.
- The original determination that scrap metal is NOT a hazardous waste was based on the science, and was done with the deliberate intent to encourage the recycling and reuse of these valuable materials.
- Under California law, recyclable scrap metal cannot be disposed of in landfills – and even if it could, all the landfills in California couldn’t accommodate the huge volume of scrap metal generated in the state.
- The state’s metal-recycling industry safely processes the overwhelming share of this scrap metal, using a variety of safe and environmentally responsible technologies, including metal shredding and metal separation.
- The processes used to shred and separate scrap metal are purely mechanical and do not involve the use of any chemicals, gases, heat, incineration or any other material or technique that could be considered hazardous, toxic or poisonous.
- Metal shredding facilities are already subject to regulation by a number of federal, state, regional and local agencies. Regulation of these facilities under the Department’s hazardous waste permitting program is unnecessary and will duplicate or interfere with the regulatory programs of other agencies.
- The costs associated with having to operate under a hazardous waste treatment permit are excessive and will threaten the economic viability of these critical facilities.
- DTSC has other existing enforcement authorities it can use if necessary to address conditions that are found to pose a threat to human health or the environment.
- If the metal-recycling industry is curtailed or put out of business by the Department’s onerous new requirement, the plain fact is that the massive quantities of scrap metals produced every day in California will have nowhere to go. With nowhere to go, these tons and tons of material will begin to accumulate in huge quantities, increasing urban blight and creating dangerous eyesores, and causing potential threats to public health and safety.
- Californians would begin to experience the effects almost immediately, resulting in a geometric increase in “midnight dumping” along roadsides, in alleys or empty fields.
- This will be a particularly telling problem in low-income and minority neighborhoods, which already endure more than their share of cast-offs.
Californians have enthusiastically embraced recycling for decades, because they know that recycling helps reduce pollution, reduces the need for raw materials and preserves energy and natural resources. But without the capacity to support recycling efforts, we will end up being buried in our own junk.
Learn more about the situation on this site.