End of life vehicles: Achieving new targets

Written by: Brian Gist | Published:

New legislation governing end of life vehicles, the EU’s ELV Directive, was introduced on January 1, 2015. Brian Gist of TOMRA Sorting Recycling looks at the effect it’s having on the end of life vehicles sector.

The revised end of life vehicles legislation, which affects metal recyclers and vehicle dismantlers, saw the previous target of an 85% combined recycling and reuse rate increase to 95%. Within this 95%, 85% must be recycled or reused and the additional 10% can be achieved using energy recovery from the combustion of non-recyclable residues. This wasn't the case in the previous directive.

The End of Life Vehicles Directive was first passed in 2000 with the aim of all member states transposing it into national law by 2002. However, due to the complex requirements of the directive, it wasn't until late 2003 that the first set of regulations transposing the directive were formally introduced in the UK.

Further ELV legislation includes the end of life vehicles (producer responsibility) Regulations 2005 (covering recycling targets and free take-back for ELVs) and the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2007 (widening the regulations to include all waste coaches, buses, motor cycles and goods vehicles).

Today, an estimated two million ELVs end up in scrap yards in the UK each year; either directly or via a vehicle dismantler.

There are currently 45 shredders working on ELVs in the UK and the ELV Directive affects all operators of these shredders as well as owners of authorised treatment facilities (ATFs) for cars that have either been written off in accidents (premature ELVs) or have reached the end of their life (natural ELVs).

Recovering value

ELV waste offers considerable potential for material recovery.

If we look at the current Volkswagen Golf Mark 7, for example, its components are:

Steel and iron: 62.9%

Operating fluids and tools: 2.3%

Electronics: 0.1%

Composites and sundries: 3.3%

Process polymers: 1.1%

Mixed polymers: 19.5%

Other non-ferrous metals: 2.6%

Aluminium alloys: 8.2%

The metals (steel and iron, electronics, other non-ferrous metals and aluminium alloys) are removed, the operating fluids are sucked out prior to shredding and then, once the material has been shredded, you are left with a vast amount of automotive shredder residue (ASR). ASR comprises all the non-metallic residue: glass, fibre, rubber, foam, fluff, grit, wood and plastics. At least 50% of this ASR contains valuable recoverable material.

The ELV Directive requires the separation and recycling of metals, plastics, rubber and glass, but at TOMRA we also argue that the wood should be recovered. Surprisingly there is a significant amount of wood in ASR.

By far the most financially attractive material to recover - with the exception of metals of course - is the plastics. All plastics, including black plastics, should be recovered before the remaining material is either landfilled or alternatively used as a fuel, which would of course then count towards the 95% target set in the revised ELV Directive.

In 2012, the UK government declared that the use of residual materials from ASR as a fuel in specifically designed energy plants would be considered 'recovery'.

Sadly, there has been little evidence of any government funding or proactive support for this to materialise. As we'll see, this is likely to be one of the major barriers to the UK achieving the new 95% target.

Germany's closed loop approach

Many of our mainland Europe counterparts are in fact already achieving 95% recycling, reuse and recovery.

In Germany, for example, the introduction of its zero landfill policy resulted in the closure of landfill sites and consequent heavy investment in energy recovery facilities, in particular combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Germany's housing infrastructure is based on a high proportion of apartments, flats and multi people accommodation so the CHP plants are integrated with housing complexes, providing heating and power to local communities.

In this situation, adding material recovered from ELV as a fuel for the incineration process meets the needs of the community and closes the loop on the waste process.

In the case of Germany, a great deal of thought, time and investment has gone into the systems to ensure that valuable materials are recovered from the ELV waste stream and that the infrastructure is in place to meet the 95% target - which Germany already has.

Other European countries are very confident in their ability to do so by using ELV in their CHP energy recovery systems.

Lessons to be learned

So how can we learn from our European neighbours? Germany has certainly set an example of how very high recycling, recovery and reuse can be achieved, but this has not been without its problems. It now faces a situation where there is an overcapacity of incinerators: as landfills were closing down, more incinerators were being built to take the material.

To keep the incinerators running requires a constant supply of in-feed material and now operators, in a bid to secure in-feed material, are reducing their gate fees. With incineration costs getting lower and lower, incineration has unfortunately sometimes become a more favourable option than recovery.

This is an important lesson for the UK - we need to get the balance right in terms of bringing heat and power plants to the UK, but also ensuring that we recover as much of the valuable material from the ELV stream as possible.

The introduction of the revised ELV Directive in the UK will deliver a number of benefits including less material being sent to landfill, much greater emphasis on recovery and hopefully investment in recovery and also potentially in CHP facilities. At present, there are no UK facilities that use ELV waste for energy generation and without the government pushing for or investing in this, it is down to the metals recycling industry to develop the infrastructure for energy generation from ASR.

However, we have to bear in mind that this is happening at a time when the guys are just trying to survive. I believe that the government should first of all be encouraging recovery of wood and all plastics from ASR before material is landfilled, and at the same time be providing assistance to establish an infrastructure for the use of ASR in energy generation. Both these actions would go a long way to enabling the UK to hit the EU's 95% target.

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