What is ‘end of life’?

The treatment and disposal of construction waste has grown in emphasis over recent years due to European and other legislation and the concerns regarding the limited availability of landfill sites. We take this issue very seriously and the manufacturers within EPIC have conducted extensive research and trials to identify all the potential ‘end of life’ options that are practical, feasible and economic.

This section summarises the latest position concerning insulated panels that are entering the waste stream or are at the end of their life and covers the available options for end of life disposal.

The information has been gathered into EPIC’s latest end of life guide: ‘Identification and Disposal of Insulated Panels used in Buildings’.

Where are panels used?

The ‘working with insulated panels’ section illustrates the wide range of uses of insulated panels in both external and internal applications, including specialist activities such as cold stores. Panels with polyisocyanurate (PIR)/polyurethane (PUR) insulation dominate the external roof and wall market and are increasingly used internally. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) cored panels are predominantly used internally. Mineral wool (MW) insulated panels have been used on external walls and also internally.

Recycling of the insulation core from all types of metal cladding systems is problematic and economic solutions are still being sought. Research has concluded that current demolition practice generally results in the insulation going to landfill – whether it is PUR, PIR, EPS, XPS or MW.

Panels with ODP cores and regulatory requirements

It is the insulating core that determines the treatment and disposal of insulated panels at end of life. Approximately 60% of all panels are subject only to the standard restrictions covering construction waste and landfill including all panels with cores of MW, EPS, XPS and PIR from 2004 onwards.

PUR cored panels and the majority of PIR panels manufactured before 2004 used either Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) or Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) blowing agents, which are classified as gases with ozone depleting potential (ODP). The ODP gases are required, by Regulation, to be captured and destroyed ‘where practical and economically feasible’ (see guide linked above for details). However 2/3 of these are less than 15 years old and under normal circumstances with current life expectancy are unlikely to enter the waste stream until 2025/2030 at the earliest.

Identification and testing of panels

The 3 steps on panel identification and various tips are set out in the EPIC end of life guide covers. It summaries the various options for the reuse of insulated panels (from an economic and technical point of view) and has a separate section on the treatment, recycling and disposal of panels both with ODS and non-ODS blowing agents.

Reference is made to pentane – a non-ODS blowing agent used increasingly since 2000. Pentane can be detected using ToxiVision EX with tube and probe. This is a simple hand-held portable detector available from Shawcity Ltd.

In cases where it is not clear whether the blowing agent was an ODS gas, small samples can be sent to laboratories for analysis. The market situation regarding the various shredder and recycling plants is dependant on capacities and prices of recyclable materials and is constantly changing. Although plants can be identified through internet search engines, EPIC recommend the use of a specialist service company who are aware of the latest plant programmes and where capacity is available for the various types of panel – often not the nearest geographical location. Our members would advise contacting Blue Castle (contact 01400 283622). Blue Castle offer a simple, cost-effective route for recycling insulated panels and a range of recycling options to suit the specific requirements, as determined by the type of panel and the location of the project, and can assist in the correct implementation of any new recycling projects or expanding your current recycling programme. They will also assist in the identification of the core material, where required.

End of life options for insulated panels with ODS

Since January 2004, all PIR insulated panels produced are classed as non-hazardous and do not contain CFCs or HCFCs (ODS). For PUR/PIR panels manufactured before 2004 using ODS blowing agents, current legislation governing the recovery of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) – EC Regulation 2037/2000 – requires recovery of ODS to be carried out only ‘where practicable’.

A commercial service for dealing responsibly with the legacy of CFC and HCFC containing insulated panels at their end of life is now available. EPIC members have completed successful trials that demonstrate the feasibility of using existing refrigerator recycling plants for the recovery of blowing agents from PUR/PIR steel-faced insulated panels, including one project of over 7000m2 of CFC containing roof panel.

Fridge recycling plants, like conventional shredder plants, allow the steel to be recovered for scrap thereby helping to offset processing and transport costs. A further major advantage of fridge recycling plants is that the recovered foam is clean and dry – in the ideal form for possible recycling/reprocessing, which although technically feasible is not commercially available at present. The use of fridge plant processing goes a long way towards establishing a ‘closed-loop’ resources flow in the future, potentially avoiding landfill. It deals with the significant aspects of the potential waste flow arising from the recovery of insulated panels at the end of their life.

End of life options for non-ODS insulated panels produced since 2004 including current production

Conventional shredder plants offer a proven solution for dealing with insulated panels with non-ozone depleting blowing agents and are suitable for non-ODS panels, which can be safely processed as a co-feed with other scrap materials. The cost of processing panels through shredder plants is approximately cost neutral with the transport costs from site being covered by the scrap value of the steel. Economics for specific buildings will be dependant on transport distances. Conventional commercial shredder plants do not offer the opportunity of recycling the insulation core but a dedicated shredder facility does have the potential to offer the opportunity for collecting the insulation core for recycling. This development is anticipated in the future.

Note: Conventional ferrous shredding facilities in the UK process tens of thousands of tonnes of products such as vehicles, general scrap metal and large household appliances every year.

Shredders work by pulverising materials using rapidly flailing hammers with rotor diameters up to 3 metres driven by large motors up to 10000hp. Sophisticated control systems, in conjunction with cyclone technology, ensure clean separation of metal from plastics and other non-metallic components. Metal goes for recycling whilst the non-metallic waste is recycled where possible or sent to landfill.