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Publications archive - Waste and recycling

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environmental Impact of End-of-Life Vehicles: An Information Paper

Environment Australia
2002
ISBN 0642547513


Operating fluids

Introduction

Besides the heavy metals discussed above, ELVs can contain a number of fluids (oil, petrol, brake fluids etc), along with lead acid batteries and air conditioning gasses, which are generally considered to pose potential threats to the environment if improperly disposed of.

Releases of these substances may occur both through:

These two issues are related. The level of landfill contamination from hazardous fluids etc in shredder flock is entirely related to the degree to which these materials are removed from the ELVs prior to shredding. As a large proportion of ELVs which arrive at shredders come from intermediaries such as parts recyclers, the extent to which they remove these substances also affects the level of contamination of the flock.

Releases also occur at recycler's sites, where fluids may be released to land or water, and gasses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to air, through inadequate facilities and practices.

The way in which these substances in ELVs are managed was found to be an area of concern to most of the State and Territory EPAs consulted during the review.

Current situation

In Europe and elsewhere, new ELV treatment regulations recognise the importance of ensuring oil, petrol, air-conditioning gasses and other environmental contaminates are disposed of properly and in a properly regulated and monitored way.

In Australia there are currently no specific requirements for ELV treatment:

As discussed earlier, no data were found during the study to indicate the precise levels of releases of fluids and gasses from ELVs to landfill through shredder residue although personal observations indicated it was occurring

Additionally, no Australian empirical data on the chemical behaviour of these materials in shredder flock when released to the environment have been found.

However, State and Territory EPAs, and the metal shredder companies, agreed that contamination from these substances was a potential concern.

Responsibility for removing operating fluids

A key issue is with whom the responsibility should lie for removing potentially contaminating materials prior to shredding. The shredder operators pointed out the fact that a large proportion of ELVs received by them has been passed through intermediaries (ELV dismantlers, local council collection points etc). However, some ELVs (and relevant components such as engines/transmissions) are passed directly to shredder operators:

As discussed previously, the volume of ELVs handled by the shredder operators creates commercial disincentives for labour intensive pre-shredder treatment. Nevertheless, the shredder operators interviewed argued that they generally follow good practices in this regard.

In the United Kingdom, the metal shredding industry has estimated that up to 40% of the vehicles that are shredded still contain significant quantities of "important environmental pollutants - used lead acid batteries, lubricating oils, brake fluid, coolant, fuel and tyres" (Ref: 67 p.4).

The conclusion drawn during the discussions for this review was that nobody denied the importance of removing hazardous materials, and agreed that it should already be occurring. The shredder operators argued that the substances should be removed before they were passed to the shredder facilities.

Environmental Practices at Auto Recyclers

Auto recyclers are a key source of potential environmental impact, both in terms of their role in treating ELVs before passing them on to shredder operators, and pollution through inappropriate practices at their sites.

The extent of contamination occurring at automobile parts recycling facilities has not been systematically surveyed in Australia. However, there is no reason to believe that the situation would be significantly better here than internationally. In the United States, it is stated that "motor vehicle salvage facilities, the infrastructure through which cars are recycled, are extremely polluted … At least 50 of Minnesota's 436 facilities were found to be polluted enough to require intense clean-up efforts … "Ref 5, p.9.

Most State and Territory EPAs consulted, indicated that this was an area of particular concern, as did the recyclers association. APRAA indicated that many parts recyclers do not follow suitable environmental practices and indicated a willingness to pursue discussions to tighten the industry's performance. A national approach to set standards for the recycling industry was proposed during this review, and received general initial support from most States.

Some States have developed voluntary environmental guidelines for the recycling industry - the guidelines from Western Australia and New South Wales were reviewed during the study (eg. Refs. 30,31). These guidelines might prove useful if the development of formal requirements is considered further.

APRAA also operates a 5-stage accreditation system for its members, which incorporates (among other requirements) increasingly stringent environmental standards at each accreditation stage. Members are encouraged to strive towards the highest (Stage 5) accreditation by APRAA, with potential marketing benefits for the recycler resulting from higher levels of accreditation. More information is available on the APRAA website at www.apraa.com and at Ref. 48. APRAA indicated it would welcome any requirements for the industry as a whole which improved environmental procedures for auto dismantlers/recyclers.

Any new guidelines should also consider other measures being considered for the auto dismantling industry (ie. vehicle theft reduction initiatives) to ensure consistency and lower compliance costs.

APRAA views

Other key points raised during discussions with (APRAA) were that:

Minimum environmental requirements for recyclers

In summary, it seems that a set of minimum requirements could be readily developed to ensure minimal environmental pollution at auto dismantling and recycling facilities. Such requirements could include appropriate removal, storage and disposal of polluting materials, and operational standards such as ELV handling, bunding and site management.

The license conditions placed upon a recent new shredder plant (discussed in Chapter 8) may also be a useful guide.

Key Finding

Economics

The economic value of the ELV to the first recipient after the last owner should already factor in the cost of basic environmental precautions. Formalising what ought to already be occurring should not therefore significantly impact on the commercial viability of the parts recycling and shredding industries. The time taken to remove the materials discussed above was estimated by APRAA at less 30 minutes per ELV (although air-conditioning gasses and airbags may take longer). APRAA indicated that this is not a significant burden for dismantler/recyclers, and is accepted as a necessary part of ELV treatment by reputable operators. There is also the possibility of some commercial return from recycling the fluids and batteries.

In Europe the economic value of ELVs has become increasingly marginal, primarily due to high landfill costs, which are at least 10 times greater than in Australia. The new European requirements for ELV treatment extend far beyond removal of the hazardous substances (and include requirements for high levels of recycling of all ELV materials), which is estimated to cost approximately US $200 per ELV.

Low landfill costs, the nature of possible ELV pre-treatment requirements, and acknowledgment that sound pre-treatment practices should already be being followed, suggests formalising basic pre-dismantling requirements should not significantly impact on the existing economics of the ELV recycling industry.

Key Findings

Formal de-registration of ELVs?

Many of the stakeholders consulted acknowledged that there may be merit in further consideration of a formal de-registration requirement on the last owner of a vehicle. Such a proposal could largely mirror the deregistration/certificate of disposal regulations recently agreed by the European Parliament (see Ref. 8 and 44 for more detail), although without the European requirement for vehicle manufacturers to achieve higher recycling levels through that infrastructure.

Clearly, any regulated approach would require national agreement to ensure ELVs were not moved between states to avoid the requirements.

The potential benefits of such a de-registration approach could include:

The approach would need to recognise the valid cases in which vehicle owners may continue to own unregistered vehicles, for instance:

Clearly a substantial amount of further work and discussions with state, territory and local governments, registration authorities, the recycling and shredding industries and other stakeholders is required before the viability of the proposal can be fully assessed. Key issues will be compliance costs for the industry and administrative costs for government.

However, to achieve any significant improvement in ELV recycling outcomes, better regulation of the waste stream seems an important precursor. It would maximise the number of ELVs entering existing recycling processes, and allow ELV de-pollution and other environmentally sound practices at recycling/dismantling facilities to be implemented.

Key Finding