Brussels finalises proposal on end-of-life vehicles

A draft EC Directive which would make car manufacturers and dismantlers responsible for recovering end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) was finalised by the European Commission in July. The proposal has lower recycling targets than an earlier draft, but has retained a duty on manufacturers to compensate consumers for any costs they are charged by vehicle dismantlers. Meanwhile, the UK car industry has unveiled its own voluntary recovery scheme.

Some 8-9 million cars are discarded each year in the EC, producing about 1.9 million tonnes of waste in the form of shredder residue.

An initial proposal to promote the reuse and recycling of ELVs was drafted by the Commission in late 1995 (ENDS Report 252, pp 41-42 ). It included targets requiring each producer to ensure that, on average, 80% of ELVs by weight were reused or recycled and 85% were reused or recovered by 2002. These proportions rose to 90% and 95%, respectively, by 2015. A separate target required all new vehicles to be at least 90% reusable and recoverable by 2002.

The new proposal pushes the first pair of targets back three years to 2005 and cuts the reuse and recycling target for 2015 from 90% to 85%, thus increasing the proportion of ELV waste that could be burned with energy recovery from 5% to 10%. All new vehicles would have to be 85% reusable or recyclable and 95% reusable or recoverable by 2005. On the basis of a proposal from the Commission, the Council of Ministers would set further targets for the years beyond 2015.

A number of other important changes have been made since the first draft.

  • Voluntary agreements: A reference to agreements between public authorities and industry as an alternative to legislation to achieve the Directive's objectives has been removed.

  • Prevention: Member States would have to encourage manufacturers to design vehicles so as to facilitate dismantling, reuse, recovery and "in particular" recycling of components and materials. An "increasing quantity" of recycled materials would have to be used to develop markets for recyclate.

    Manufacturers would have to ensure that materials containing lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium contained in new cars sold after January 2003 were not shredded, incinerated or landfilled. Lead used as solder in circuit boards would be exempt.

  • Collection: Member States would have to ensure that "economic operators" set up systems for collecting all ELVs and transferring them to authorised treatment facilities by the end of 1999. ELVs would have to be delivered to authorised dismantlers in exchange for a "certificate of destruction".

    From January 2003, all costs arising from the discarding of ELVs would have to be borne by manufacturers and car dealers. Competent authorities would have to recognise and accept certificates of destruction issued in other Member States. The Commission would draw up minimum requirements for the certificate by 30 June 1999.

  • Coding standards and dismantling manuals: The deadline for manufacturers to introduce common coding standards for materials and components would be put back from 1996 to the end of 1999. By the same date, they would have to provide dismantling manuals identifying the different materials and components, as well as the location of hazardous substances in their vehicles.

  • Information: Member States would have to ensure that databases on ELVs and their treatment were established. Car producers in each Member State would have to publish data on the rate of reuse, recycling and recovery achieved in the previous year for their cars and components. The information would be made available to consumers. Member States would have to submit progress reports to the Commission, the first covering 1999-2001.

  • PVC: The Commission has dropped its earlier proposal to ban PVC in new cars from 2002. Instead, it says that "in view of the problems caused by PVC", it will "further analyse the scientific evidence in order to propose appropriate measures." These would be separate from the ELVs Directive.

    However, the proposed restrictions on heavy metals disposal would have the effect of requiring all PVC containing lead or cadmium stabilisers to be recycled. In anticipation of new recycling requirements, ten automotive companies established the Autovinyle association in France earlier this year to develop recycling of PVC components. Several car manufacturers have already taken the contingency step of designing PVC-free vehicles.

    Car manufacturers have argued that a Directive is unnecessary because they are already taking voluntary steps to improve ELV reuse and recovery. Voluntary programmes have been set up in eight Member States, most recently in the UK (see below). However, of these only two - in Sweden and the Netherlands - include significant proposals for take-back schemes. The systems vary considerably in terms of the commitments made by the industry and the timetables for meeting targets.

    The European car manufacturers association, ACEA, supports two components of the Directive - the authorisation of treatment facilities and destruction certificates - which it sees as necessary to eliminate the problem of free riders.

    But it has two major criticisms of the proposals. The first is that the separate targets for reuse/recycling and reuse/recovery could force manufacturers to contribute to the cost of new processes for recycling plastics, rubber and glass components. According to the British Plastics Federation (BPF), the plastics content of cars has increased from 5-8% by weight in 1980 to 14-18% today, although the car industry puts it at around 10%. ACEA wants recovery targets only, allowing more room for burning of shredder residue in energy-from-waste incinerators, cement kilns or blast furnaces.

    ACEA contends that the recycling targets will encourage the replacement of plastics with metals, increasing the overall weight of cars and making them consume more "lifetime energy". It says that transporting relatively small amounts of materials such as plastics to recycling facilities "can mean that high recycling targets become an environmental burden."

    David Hulse, Technical Manager of the UK's Automotive Consortium on Recycling and Disposal (ACORD), told ENDS that the recycling targets are likely to impair plastics recycling, but if they had been "related to different materials they might have more credibility."

    ACEA's second objection is that car manufacturers or their dealerships must compensate consumers for any costs they are charged by dismantlers, or take back the car for free. This, it says, would tempt dismantlers to "increase their costs and reduce their efficiency," creating huge scope for fraud. Instead, it suggests that consumers should be given information to help them negotiate over the money they should "receive or pay" for their old cars.

    ACORD's voluntary scheme involves five trade bodies - the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the BPF, the Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association, the British Metals Federation and the British Rubber Manufacturers Association.

    Proclaimed by the SMMT as an initiative to "improve recycling", the programme aims to boost the ELV recovery rate to 85% by 2002 and 95% by 2015, but does not contain any recycling targets. This is because the industry "does not know what is possible," said Mr Hulse.

    According to the Consortium for Automotive Recycling (CARE), a group of manufacturers and dismantlers, the current recovery rate in the UK is 75%. Its members are aiming to increase the proportion of ELV waste they recover as recycled plastics from 1.5% to 3%, focusing on polyester, ABS and polypropylene. Current and projected ELV reuse and recycling levels are shown in the table .

    ACORD's members intend to "vigorously pursue" action by the Government to ensure that ELVs enter an authorised disposal chain. One way of doing this, said Mr Hulse, would be if the certificates relieved car owners from paying excise duty or enabled them to recover a deposit.

    ACORD also intends to "vigorously pursue" Government support for the development of energy recovery facilities. SMMT President Ian McAllister said that shredder operators should develop the use of ELV residue as fuel for power generation, blast furnaces or cement kilns. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is commissioning a study to assess the feasibility of burning residue in blast furnaces.

    The agreement commits manufacturers to produce dismantling manuals by the proposed EC deadline - the end of 1999. A target to ensure that all new cars must be 90% recoverable by 2002 is identical to that in the first draft of the Directive.

    On recycling, manufacturers have promised to "encourage" the increased use of recycled materials and remanufactured parts, and to develop material recycling technologies "where appropriate".

    Each industry sector will provide data on its disposal performance and produce an annual review for the SMMT, which will produce a consolidated report. The number of ELVs entering authorised dismantlers will be monitored.

    The DTI has commissioned a life-cycle study of disposal options for ELVs to help it decide whether to support ACORD's emphasis on recovery or the Commission's proposed combination of recycling and recovery targets.

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