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Environment

Polychlorinated biphenyls and polychlorinated terphenyls (PCBs/PCTs)

EU rules to ensure the safe disposal of polychlorinated biphenyls and terphenyls (PCBs/PCTs).

PCBs PCTs image
© The-Tor / Getty Images

Overview

Certain chemicals are identified as highly toxic and are now heavily restricted. Products containing these chemicals are still being discarded, and so this type of waste must be handled with great care.

Background

PCBs and PCTs are manmade chemicals that were produced on a large scale across the world between the 1930s and 1980s. They were used in particular in lubricants and in electrical and hydraulic equipment. They are pervasive, and have since been detected in soil, surface and ground water, as well as in food. They are now classified as probable human carcinogens and produce a various adverse effects in both humans and animals.

Several countries limited the use of PCBs and PCTs in the 1970s. Their use and marketing has been very heavily restricted in Europe since 1985.

Objectives

The Directive on the disposal of PCBs/PCTs aims to ensure the environmentally sound disposal of these chemicals and of the equipment containing them as soon as possible.

EU countries much ensure that they

  • make inventories of big equipment containing PCBs or PCTs
  • adopt plans for the disposal of this equipment, and safely dispose of it (deadline for disposal was the end of 2010)
  • prepare outlines for collecting and disposing of non-inventoried equipment containing PCBs and PCTs (such as most household appliances manufactured prior to the ban on these chemicals)

Under the recast of the POPs Regulation in 2019, all remaining PCBs within dielectric equipment in concentrations above 0.005% and in volumes greater than 50 ml must be destroyed or irreversibly transformed by the end of 2025 at the latest.

See more on the restriction of hazardous chemicals in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS), and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Timeline

Key dates related to EU rules on PCBs/PCTs

  1. 31 December 2025
    Upcoming deadline

    For all remaining PCBs within di-electric equipment in concentrations above 0.005% and in volumes greater than 50 ml to be identified and removed from use.

    At the end of 2010, EU counties had to decontaminate or dispose of equipment containing PCB volumes of more than 5 litres. This did not apply to transformers containing between 0.05 % and 0.005 % by weight of PCBs or PCTs, which could be disposed of at the end of their useful lives.

  2. 16 September 1999
    Member States sent inventories of equipment with PCB volumes of more than 5 dm³ to the European Commission.
  3. 16 March 1998
    Deadline for EU countries to incorporate the Directive into national law
  4. 16 September 1996
    Directive on the disposal of PCBs/PCTs enters into force

Contact

For more information about EU waste policy, please contact our functional mailbox.