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Northwest recyclers doing good job in their battle for compliance, officials say

Seattle-Automotive recyclers and dismantlers throughout the Northwest region have, by industry and government standards, become exceedingly more professional in their recycling operations as well as more environmentally friendly in recent years, observers say.

Local, state, and federal regulations in the past 10 years have raised the bar, forcing many recyclers to alter their internal methods of handling automotive dismantling, and most firms today are seen to be in compliance with environmental issues. Much of that credit is given to state trade associations as well as the national Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA).

In Washington state, for example, the Department of Ecology (DOE) has acknowledged the Automotive Recyclers of Washington (AROW) for its efforts that have resulted in the collection of 45,000 light switches that contain toxic mercury.

“Washington was one of the first states in the nation to establish a program to remove toxic mercury light switches from salvaged vehicles, and it’s an important effort in our overall strategy for keeping mercury out of the environment,” said Darin Rice, who manages DOE’s hazardous waste and toxics reduction program.

The Washington program began in June 2006 in an agreement with AROW and the End-of-Life Vehicle Solutions group, an organization of automakers that at one time used mercury switches.

Gary Smith of the Independent Business Association, whose group works closely with AROW, said the program has been a major recovery process and that the effort has earned AROW special recognition from DOE for establishing the nation’s fifth-highest recovery state for mercury switches.

“The mercury switch collection program is an outstanding example of a win-win industry and government partnership,” said Don Phelps, president of AROW and a Kent auto recycler.

In Oregon, the Northwest Automotive Trades Association (NATA) has been a leader in urging its members, including recyclers, to collect switches.

“NATA and ARA have placed a lot of focus on collecting mercury switches in our state,” said Mary Ann Trout of Hillsboro Auto Wrecking, an activist in recycling and environmental issues.

Trout said recyclers in Oregon who participate in the collection program place the switches in a container provided by ARA and return it to a predetermined point with a provided UPS return label.

Maintaining clean operations at recycling facilities has been a major issue in recent years for a variety of local and state agencies, especially those that regulate water systems. Storm drain restrictions and regulations have become more stringent, and Smith said that new stormwater permits will be required in Washington, a rule that directly effects recyclers.

In Oregon, Trout said new storm drain regulations require testing four times a year and that new permits are required every four years. She said recyclers have to send their quarterly water tests to a lab, keep the reports from the lab on file, and send the results to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) each July.

Trout also said that scrap-metal issues are being reviewed in Oregon with the construction industry and other fields to determine if stolen metals and copper are being sold illegally to metal recyclers. “Because of the term ‘metal,’ the state is looking at auto recyclers for possible regulation.”

Smith also said that AROW and recyclers need to be aware of the common problem areas found in visits by ECOSS (Environmental Council of South Seattle). ECOSS looks at environmental and economic issues facing businesses.

With complex issues facing recyclers, Smith said that AROW and DOE have workshops planned to review many of the needs and regulations that recyclers and dismantlers will encounter.

April Parts & People