Environment Agency declare Persistent Organic Pollutants must be incinerated to protect the UK food chain

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Waste management centres and local authorities must understand the new incineration rules for domestic upholstered seating containing POPs

In late December 2022, the Environment Agency introduced new rules around the disposal of certain upholstered items of domestic furniture.

Many household chairs and sofas contain persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. These poisonous chemical substances break down slowly, and as a result, enter food chains if not properly discarded.

The new directive from the Environment Agency is that these items must be incinerated by an effective waste incinerator, to avoid dangerous contamination.

How do I know if a household seat contains persistent organic pollutants (POPs)?

Any upholstered domestic seating could contain POPs. Desk chairs, armchairs, dining chairs, stools, sofas, futons, bean bags, sofa cushions and other upholstered furniture are all likely to have been produced using POPs.

Back covers and foam may contain decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE) – the most common POP, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), pentabromodiphenyl ether (PentaBDE), or tetrabromodiphenyl ether (TetraBDE). These chemicals are likely to have also contaminated lining and wadding.

The flameproofing agent antimony trioxide, another POP, is often used alongside decabromodiphenyl ether to meet fire safety standards. Meanwhile, synthetic leather is regularly softened with medium-chain chlorinated paraffins to make it flexible.

If you’re unsure, using an x-ray fluorescence can help you to identify whether POPs are present by indicating the presence of bromine.

According to the Environment Agency’s guidance, the following products are not considered domestic seating:

  • Items which aren’t upholstered, including wooden chairs without a cushioned or textile back, seat or arms
  • Mattresses, curtains, blinds, beds and deckchairs
  • Waste stemming from the manufacture of new domestic upholstered seating that do not contain POPs

How should I dispose of household seating containing POPs?

It’s up to waste management centres and local authorities to ensure that these dangerous pollutants are incinerated correctly. Landfill owners must deliver ‘appropriate checks’ of the waste they accept to ensure it does not include soft furnishings, whereby assuming that all waste upholstered domestic seating contains POPs and is incinerated effectively unless proven otherwise.

Inciner8’s Autoloaders and Pollution Control Systems as part of the i8-1000 Incinerator waste management system, are built specifically to handle this waste management task. With the expertise of Inciner8’s advisors and your local authority, the Inciner8 team is proactively working with waste management professionals to identify the ideal solution for each location.

Why is the incineration of POPs the right choice for the environment?

Worldwide, there are many millions of items of upholstered household furniture containing POPs. It is essential that we find a sustainable solution to prevent these dangerous chemicals from entering our food chain.

Furniture incineration guarantees the destruction of these chemicals, keeping food supplies safe.

What’s more, the heat from incineration can be captured and redistributed. For local authorities and waste management centres, this heat is a viable means to power boiler systems on site, driving down a recycling centre’s carbon footprint, and supporting net zero waste targets.

How can I manage my responsibility to incinerate upholstered domestic seating containing POPs?

From August 2023, the Environment Agency will launch a formal audit campaign to monitor compliance across waste management centres and local authorities, having already written to c.1,500 organisations instructing them to review their waste management procedures.

To find the right furniture incineration solution for your site, from solid waste incinerators to hazardous waste incinerators, contact the Inciner8 team at +44 1704 884020 or email sales@inciner8.com