Race is on to meet ELV recovery target

Government-sponsored trials are expected to show that the reuse and recovery rate for end-of-life vehicles is around 78-80% - significantly lower than next year's 85% target set by the ELVs Directive. Closing the gap requires investment in plastics recycling plus the development of new markets.

The ELVs Directive requires the UK to reuse or recycle 80%, and reuse or recover 85% of vehicles by weight by 2006. Given that very little material is sent for energy recovery, the 85% target will have to be met by reuse and recycling.

Recent trials sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry are expected to show that the current reuse and recycling rate - which is entirely accounted for by metals - accounts for some 75-76% of the weight of a typical scrap car. The reuse and recycling of materials extracted during de-pollution, such as tyres, liquids and spare parts, account for an extra 3-4%, giving a total recovery rate of 78-80%.

Closing the gap to 85% will require the recycling of other materials, such as plastics, rubber, glass and textiles - and little time is left.

EMR, the UK's largest shredder operator, is looking for markets for rubber and mixed plastics and has started recovering small quantities of glass. Sims, the second largest, has invested in plant to process plastics from ELVs and electrical goods. The company is also looking at technology for separating different plastics and rubber from shredder waste.

But Cartakeback, the consortium of shredders and dismantlers that most producers have signed contracts with, has no plans to invest in plastics recycling.

The trial results reflect those obtained from elsewhere in Europe. A report for the Environment Department (DEFRA) in 2003 settled on a 77% recovery rate, while the Automotive Consortium for Recycling and Disposal claims that the figure is 80%.

Meeting the targets is largely the duty of car manufacturers and importers, or "producers". Each company has responsibility for its own brands, and is meant to establish a national network of licensed recycling sites - or authorised treatment facilities (ATFs) - with which it has signed long-term contracts. The DTI has received details of all producers' networks and is assessing whether they provide adequate access to vehicle users.

To qualify as an ATF, a site must have a waste management licence and meet minimum operating standards set by the Directive. By mid-September there were 995 ATFs in England and Wales, including around 300 that previously operated under licensing exemptions.1There are also a "few hundred" exempt sites that have applied for waste management licences but have not established their planning status, which in turn is delaying their licence applications.

The Agency believes there is already enough ATF capacity to process the two million or so ELVs discarded each year. But, said the Agency's Adrian Harding, it cannot tell if the capacity is evenly spread across England and Wales. Nor does it know how many sites are illegally dealing with ELVs. Mr Harding said a "crackdown" is planned soon.

The Agency has also served enforcement notices on several licensed operators requiring them to drain or remove shock absorbers.

It is likely that the environment agencies will be charged with ensuring that producers and ATFs meet their own targets.

The forms of acceptable evidence will vary - although tradable permits are ruled out. One purpose of the DTI trials was to help devise protocols for metals reuse and recycling and for the recovery of de-polluted materials, which would state the assumed rates of recycling and recovery.

One problem here is how to distinguish between recycled metal derived from ELVs and metals from other waste streams entering shredder plants, such as white goods.

Another issue is what could happen if a producer fails to meet its target - for example, if an ATF in its network goes out of business. Contracts between ATFs and producers - typically spanning ten years - have forced ATFs to take most of the risk. If the costs of meeting the targets exceed the revenue from recycled materials and spare parts, the ATFs must foot the bill.

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