Agency warns of 'huge' recycling challenge for car industry

Car manufacturers face a "huge challenge" in meeting the EU target to reuse or recover 85% of end-of-life vehicles by 2006, according to the Environment Agency. Recycling of ELV-derived plastics in particular will be needed to make up the "significant shortfall" in recovery, according to a report for the Environment Department.

The EU Directive on ELVs requires Member States to reuse or recover 85% of scrap vehicles by weight by January 2006. Reuse or recycling must account for at least 80% of this target, with energy recovery making up any shortfall.

Although some tyres from ELVs are burned as fuel in cement kilns, almost all ELV recovery currently takes the form of scrap metal recycling or the reuse of spare parts. Increases in recovery will have to be achieved largely by new recycling operations for plastics, glass and non-tyre rubber.

Earlier this year, shredder operators warned of a serious risk that the UK will miss the 85% target (ENDS Report 339, p 17 ). They estimated that the current recovery rate is just 72.5% - achieved through spare parts reuse and metals recycling. A further 4.5% could be added through the recovery of tyres, fluids and oil filters in cement kilns - giving a total recovery rate of 77%.

The Department of Trade and Industry, which has the lead role in implementing the Directive, seems confident that the target will be met. It has dismissed as "gold plating" the idea of setting car manufacturers interim recovery targets - even on a voluntary basis - for 2004 and 2005, because the Directive does not set targets before 2006. Similarly, the Directive does not require car manufacturers and importers to bear costs associated with the take-back and recovery of ELVs until 2007.

The car industry disputes the shredders' findings, claiming that the estimate of 80% recovery in 2000 produced by the Automotive Consortium for Recycling and Disposal paints a more accurate picture.

However, ACORD, which includes trade bodies representing dismantlers and the plastics and rubber sectors, as well as metal recyclers and car manufacturers, has been unable to publish data for recent years because of internal disputes over the figures.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders gave evidence to a House of Commons' Environment Committee inquiry into the transposition of the ELVs Directive in November.

The estimate of 80% would be disputed by "other people in the room", said the SMMT's Steve Franklin. He was referring to dismantler organisations which also gave evidence that day.

It "never was disputed previously but as we are getting close to the legislation and if potentially uneconomic recycling has a cost attached to it then clearly the numbers are more important."

A report for DEFRA by consultancy TRL concludes that the current recovery rate is 77% (see table). While the figure is higher than the shredders' estimate, TRL describes the 8% shortfall to be overcome in two years as "significant".

"In particular", says the report, "there is a need to increase the amount of ELV-derived plastics recycling." Plastics make up some 10% of the total weight of an ELV but the amount recycled accounts for just 0.1% of ELV arisings.

The Environment Agency agrees. "It's going to be a huge challenge," said the head of its producer responsibility unit, Jeff Cooper. "Although ACORD aimed to achieve 85% recovery by 2002, it never really undertook the detailed research and development work that was necessary."

Although DEFRA commissioned the TRL report, it appears to have washed its hands of the issue. It lacks influence, given the DTI's role in devising the forthcoming producer responsibility regime.

The car industry appears unfazed by the situation. Reaching 85% in 2006 will be "difficult", said Steve Franklin, but it can be achieved "by fairly conventional methods". There has been "a lot of work done on plastics, the methodology is proven, the economics are slightly uncertain and what we have to do is trim the economics," he told the Committee.

Detailed rules to control compliance against the targets and the format for the database for compliance reporting should have been published by the European Commission by October 2002 but are now expected in January.

Rather than requiring the weighing of every consignment of scrap metal from dismantlers, the rules will set a figure for the average proportion of ELV-derived metal in scrap loads. This will allow enforcement of the targets to focus on the non-metallic fraction of ELVs.

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