Zero waste drive

Written by: Gareth Williams | Published:

End-of-life vehicle recycling is in a state of flux. Gareth Williams, marketing and communications director at European Metal Recycling (EMR), reports

There are currently around 36 million vehicles on the road in the UK, and according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), new vehicle registrations increased by 7.7% in 2015, with alternative fuelled vehicles accounting for a 2.8% share of the car market. The latest models being brought to market incorporate a complex mix of new materials to offer enhanced performance, safety and environmental benefits. But what does this mean for the recycling industry?

Vehicles are one of the most widely recycled products in existence, and with more on the road than ever before and an increasing variety of materials being used to manufacture them, the scrap metal industry is faced with both challenges and opportunities for
end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycling.

The ELV challenge

The European Union’s End of Life Vehicle (ELV) Directive came into force in 2005, making it a legal requirement for any car sent for scrap to go through an authorised treatment facility (ATF). These facilities have a licence to scrap cars using an approved, environmentally friendly process that involves the removal of all hazardous materials. In 2015, the legislation around the treatment of ELVs was updated, requiring 95% of a vehicle to be recycled and recovered, compared to 85% previously. This is an extremely high figure, especially when you consider the complex mix of materials and large quantities of waste involved.

According to Eurostat data, out of the 1.8 million cars that are scrapped in the UK each year, more than 500,000 escape official audit trails, with some estimates suggesting this figure could be nearer to 800,000.

These missing ELVs often end up abandoned or in illegal scrap yards, leaching heavy metals and toxins into the ground or rusting by the side of the road. The network of illegal scrap merchants, who dispose of ELVs outside of the approved channels, not only undermines the investment made by ATFs in optimising the ELV recycling process, but they also put the environment at risk.

Recycling in the real world

Breaking cars down properly in order to harvest materials and collect waste safely is a long, expensive process, requiring specific equipment and infrastructure.

At the start of the approved vehicle recycling chain, the battery, tyres, airbags and any other reusable items are removed. The vehicle is then earthed before being connected to a depollution rig to drain the car of any remaining liquid. These liquids are pumped into sealed tanks and recycled or sent to a specialist disposal plant for treatment. Each vehicle is then shredded into fist-sized pieces which creates a mixture of shredded metals and waste consisting of glass, fibre, rubber, plastics and dirt.

Ferrous metals (iron and steel) are separated from the rest, and are clean enough to be sold to steelworks for remelting without the need for any further processing. In order to meet ambitious recycling targets, recyclers have had to invest in new technologies to recycle plastics as well as scrap metal, and also consider ways to deal with any remaining waste.

Adapting to these challenges, while remaining committed to real-world recycling practices, at European Metal Recycling (EMR) we have invested heavily since 2008 in new technologies and partnerships to offer a complete solution for ELV recycling.

Our investment has included shredders, ELV depollution rigs and a post-shredder separation facility. We’ve also worked with partners to develop technological advancements in plastic recycling and the production of electricity through the gasification of residual waste streams.

These processes divert materials away from landfill and are capable of achieving over a 95% recycling rate.

Many of the parts and components that make up an ELV can also be re-used or
re-manufactured to serve a useful second life. Fluids such as oils and fuels can be reused and old tyres can be recycled as rubber crumb for sports pitches, or even used for fuel replacement in cement-making.

The patented system that we use to separate plastics produces a range of high-quality plastic grades that can be used in manufacturing as a direct replacement for virgin material.

The introduction of new materials and battery types into the vehicle manufacturing process will ultimately require further investment and innovation from the recycling sector to ensure that today’s recycling processes can cope with the vehicles of the future.

Carrot or stick approach?

So what can be done to prevent such a large proportion of ELVs escaping approved recycling routes? One option to encourage more consumers to dispose of their vehicles legally is to introduce a road fund levy that is then paid to the last owner when the car is disposed of properly. Currently, once a car has been scrapped, a Certificate of Destruction (COD) is raised by the ATF to prove that the car’s details have been removed from the DVLA’s website. What would happen if we gave the certificate a monetary value?

By adding a nominal amount to the annual road tax mechanism, every owner of that vehicle contributes and it provides an incentive that allows the last owner to be rewarded for choosing the right recycling channels. Similar incentive schemes have been introduced in Denmark and have already had a positive impact on ELV recycling rates.

Car owners are able to select an approved dismantler online and, once accepted, payment (which has also been increased to €300) is transferred to a specific bank account and linked to the owner’s social security number. The COD is also sent electronically, helping to improve traceability of the recycling process from owner to dismantler.

The journey to zero waste

If we don’t work together to increase the number of ELVs being disposed of via approved channels, before the cars on the road today reach the end of their life, 12 million of them will have been scrapped illegally.

Not only do we need to collaborate to help achieve regulatory targets but we also need to continue to drive innovation in our processes to keep up with the rapid developments in vehicle manufacturing.

The technological and environmental achievements of our journey towards zero waste have been welcomed but we’ve not reached the end of the road and there is still much to do.

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