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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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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


Increasing the recycling of ELV materials

Introduction

In addition to environmental impacts related to the volume of ELV waste and potential pollution, resource loss from not maximising recycling of ELVs also represents a significant negative environmental loading.

Even if manufacturers pursue measures to further increase levels of ELV component reuse, the low overall demand for most ELV components is unlikely to produce substantial increases in parts reuse. Exceptions include operating fluids and batteries (and possibly tyres) that should already be removed and recycled as discussed in Chapter 10.

Accordingly, achieving lower levels of waste and higher levels of ELV recycling would require an increase in materials recycling. The non-recycled fraction of ELVs (ie. the non-metal materials) account for 30% of total vehicle weight - predominantly plastics as well as foam, glass and rubber (from tyres).

Internationally, there have been two approaches to increasing ELV recycling levels:

Both are discussed below.

A useful summary of international developments is provided in Ref: 4.

Plastics in ELVs

Various plastics comprise the largest non-metal materials in automobile manufacture, with the ratio set to further increase in coming years. Cars contain more plastics than any other material by volume. These materials are increasingly being used to produce lighter-weight vehicles and to date have generally not been recovered from ELVs.

It should be noted that while the increased use of plastics in vehicles is likely to have a detrimental impact in terms of the end of life environmental impacts, the use of lighter materials has a significant positive impact in the "in service" life cycle phase (see Chapter 12). It should also be noted that the manufacture of plastics consumes considerably fewer resources and produces fewer environmental releases than metals, thereby also producing positive benefits in the "production" phase. Accordingly, policy responses should not distort the overall positive effect of plastic use in vehicles.

Nevertheless, landfilling ELV plastics represents a significant loss of resources. For instance, the production of plastic accounts for 4% of total world oil production, and 7.5% of world plastic production is used in car manufacturing. The use of plastics in car manufacture therefore accounts for 0.3% of world oil consumption. Recycling of plastic is estimated to produce an 80% saving in resources over production of virgin material, with substantial associated reductions in emissions and other environmental releases.

Technical difficulties

Recycling ELV plastics is difficult technically, primarily due to the difficulties in separating different resin types from single components. A dashboard, for example, may contain several plastic types, foam, and bonding agents. Separating seat coverings from the foam cushioning is another example.

Even in Europe where, manufacturers and regulators have been actively pursuing plastics recycling options for some years, it is estimated that only 8% of ELV plastics are recycled (Ref: 23, p.26).

Tyres, Batteries and Oils

Used tyres present a difficult waste management problem in landfill or when stockpiled because of their volume, the resource loss and the fire hazard they pose. Approximately 20 million tyres may be being discarded annually (eg. Ref. 27, p.9), many of which are shredded with ELVs (by extrapolation, perhaps 2.5 million per annum). Evidence from the metal shredders indicated that ELVs arriving at the shredders are frequently loaded up with old tyres, although one operator indicated that they have a policy allowing no more than 5 tyres per vehicle. However, the majority of waste tyres (at least 80%, eg Ref: 1, p.15) is attributable to operational, rather than end of life, vehicles.

Nevertheless, tyres constitute a significant proportion of landfilled ELV shredder flock (about 7-10%). Accordingly, the development of measures to increase the incidence of tyre recycling would produce meaningful reductions in flock levels.

Discussions with vehicle dismantlers indicated a general lack of knowledge of the existence of tyre recyclers - APRAA indicated that its members would be more than willing to assist with disseminating information, or other measures, to increase tyre recycling levels.

Rubber cannot be remoulded or economically recycled to equivalent grade, although retreading is an option. Australia already has the world's highest retreading rate (approximately 27% - Ref. 27, p.11), although it does not ultimately provide a solution to tyre disposal. Used tyres can be broken down into granulated or crumbed rubber particles, which can be used in a number of applications (eg. carpet underlay, hosepipe, rubber boots) or mixed with plastic waste for items like conveyor belts (Ref. 1, p.15). Small amounts of recycled rubber are used in the manufacture of new tyres.

The low levels of landfill charges in Australia appears to be a significant contributing factor to the limited adoption of alternative means of disposal and recycling of tyres, as with other shredder flock materials. However, as noted previously, responsibility ought not lie largely or solely with shredder operators. This may be inequitable and counterproductive as increasing landfill charges could reduce the commercial viability of current ELV recycling levels.

Lead acid batteries such as those used in motor vehicles account for the largest proportion of lead in the waste stream (Ref 27, p.9). Australian Refined Alloys (ARA) estimate that 85-90% of the 4 million or so batteries scrapped each year are recycled (1996 figures, Ref. ibid). In the case of ELVs, one recycler also operates a battery recycling facility - recycling both the lead and plastic casings. However, anecdotal evidence from ELV recyclers/dismantlers during the study suggested that the value of car batteries might be declining to the point where proper disposal was less economically viable.

There was conflicting evidence during the study as to the extent to which oils and other lubricants are removed and recycled prior to ELV shredding. Nevertheless, one metal recycler indicated the view that the failure of auto dismantlers (and others providing ELVs) to remove fluids from vehicles was a major concern. Environment Australia is pursuing oil stewardship arrangements to enhance the collection of used oil.

Foam

As with plastics, the difficulty in recycling the polyurethane foam (predominantly located in vehicle seats) is related to the time and cost in separating the foam from other materials. However, through better design, methods are now being employed by some manufacturers to readily separate the seat for recycling. Seat foam can be recycled into noise insulation for new cars (by Renault for example, see Ref. 23, p.27). Mitsubishi indicated that most Australian made cars have readily separable seat covers.

It appears likely that markets may exist for recycled foam - particularly for carpet underlay for instance - and some recycling occurs overseas (eg. Italy, UK). However, the low landfilling charges in Australia (perhaps a tenth of those in Europe) significantly mitigate against the development of commercial markets for recycled foam.

Glass

Glass is an environmentally innocuous although heavy material. Recycling of glass is problematic, as it usually laminated, coated with primer and bonded or butyl-taped. In addition, removing vehicle glass is becoming increasingly difficult with the need for special tools. As a result, no market exists for recycled vehicle glass in Australia.

While this is the case in most international markets, in Italy Fiat is coordinating the enhanced recovery of materials from nearly 300,000 vehicles per annum, including glass. The glass is separated from laminate and other contaminating materials for use in the manufacture of coloured glass containers. Italy is unusual in having high un-met demand for this type of scrap coloured cullet which is used for green and amber wine bottles, which makes the recycling of glass commercially feasible. This is not the case in other countries, such as the UK for instance, where such a market does not exist (Ref. 65, p.4).

Economics

In addition to the technical difficulties, the economics of ELV plastics (and other ELV material) recycling is currently marginal at best. The current infrastructure for plastics recycling, for instance, does not extend much beyond kerb-side collection of domestic waste plastics and some recycling of industrial scrap plastic. In both these cases, the volumes, ease of collection, and quality of the waste apparently produces commercially viable recycling.

The economics of ELV plastic recycling are more difficult given the dispersed nature of the material supply, frequent contamination (eg repairs to plastic bumpers), and the labour intensive removal and sorting processes. As well as the mixture of plastics in single components, the presence of contaminating materials (such as metal from fasteners) presents major problems. Perhaps the most scientific assessment of the difficulties of achieving higher levels of plastics recycling is contained in a thorough report by an amalgamation of relevant Swedish manufacturing firms, known as ECRIS. (See Ref. 28). Recycling of Volvo dashboards for instance was found not to be commercially viable.

During the review, discussions were had with a business (ABSAN, in Adelaide) which specialises in the recycling of plastic bumpers and certain other plastics which contain a single plastic type (generally polypropylene or ABS). However, the business solely recycles new plastic components rejected during the manufacture of Holdens - it was indicated that the commercial dynamics of recycling post-consumer ELV plastics would be unattractive for the reasons above.

As well as cost difficulties associated with removal and sorting of plastic materials, the value of recycled plastics is a further factor in the lack of economic value for ELV plastics. As the ABSAN example shows; if the plastics are sufficiently pure and different plastic types are not mixed, a commercial return can be attained. Less pure mixes of plastics are worth considerably less, and require higher proportions of virgin materials to be mixed with the recycled material. The cost of virgin plastics is relatively low - ABSAN sells recycled plastics back to Holden.

In the ECRIS project, it was concluded that:

These conclusions are likely to apply equally, if not more so, to the Australian environment.

The issue of plastics and other ELV material recycling, and particularly the development of collection infrastructure and facilitation of secondary markets, is obviously an issue which extends beyond ELVs to all waste sources.

International Developments

The recent European Parliament directive on end of life vehicles makes manufacturers in Europe responsible for achieving increasing recycling targets.

Other significant measures under that directive are the requirement for standardised materials coding, and for producers to provide dismantling information for each type of new vehicle put on the market within 6 months of its release.

Extract from European Parliament Directive 2000/53/EC

"Member states shall take the necessary measure to ensure that the following targets are attained …:"

"(a) no later than 1 January 2006, for all end of life vehicles, the reuse and recovery shall be increased to a minimum of 85% by an average weight per vehicle and year …"

"(b) by no later than 1 January 2015, for all end of life vehicles, the reuse and recovery shall be increased to a minimum of 95% by an average weight per vehicle and year."

(note: up to 10% may be achieved through means other than reuse and recycling - eg. energy recovery)

By passing responsibility to the manufacturers for achieving higher recycling levels, incentives are created for the increased use of recycled ELV materials in new vehicles - thereby helping create a market for the secondary products.

Industry Views and initiatives

The manufacturers and the FCAI are opposed to Australia adopting a European style EPR model, arguing it would be likely to have a significant detrimental impact on other government policy objectives for the local car industry (ie sustainability).

Other relevant factors include the low investment/low volume nature of the local industry, landfill pressures/costs are lower, infrastructure and markets for recycled ELV materials are limited, and the costs of recycling associated technologies is not currently viable for the local market size. EPR for autos has not been formally adopted in most other nations.

The Australian manufacturers consulted during the review indicated that they are already pursuing many measures to facilitate ELV materials recycling. For instance, Holden described changes to certain vehicle components in future models to greatly increase the number of single resin components. It was found that coding of plastics using recognised markings (important for later sorting) is already widely practised.

Ford Australia seemed particularly well advanced in setting and working towards recyclability targets as part of global Ford initiatives.

Key Findings

Funding a Recycling Program

A major stumbling block for the European ELV initiatives involved the issue of funding - although it was initially proposed that the industry would meet the additional costs, the question was eventually left to individual member nations to resolve - although it was agreed that the last owner should not bear the cost.

In Europe, the cost of the new measures is estimated at approximately US$200 per ELV - this would equate to approximately A$200 million per annum in Australia. Given the economies of scale in the European market, existing materials recycling infrastructure, and other factors such as lower average transport distances and costs, it can be expected that the costs of subventing the market to achieve increased recycling of ELVs may be considerably higher in Australia.

Furthermore, it is still far from clear at this stage whether the European measures will be sufficient to overcome the current market factors limiting demand for ELV recycling.

Before determining what sources of financial intervention might be necessary to increase ELV recycling, it would seem advisable to first:

It should also be noted that similar initiatives have not been adopted outside of Europe, including competitors with Australian manufacturers in the domestic market (such as Asia and North America).

Recyclability

A key measure being adopted by manufacturers in response to the requirements for higher levels of recycling is the "recyclability" level of new vehicles.

Notwithstanding the current lack of commercially viable markets for ELV materials recycling, measures to improve the level of recyclability are important for the future:

Manufacturers consulted, particularly Ford, are well advanced in quantifying and defining recyclability and implementing design changes to increase recyclability levels.

Recycling

Manufacturers can also play an important role in increasing recycling outcomes through their use of recycled material in new vehicles. A number of manufacturers both here and internationally already use recycled ELV plastics in certain applications (such as hidden "behind dash" components). It would be desirable for manufacturers to examine options for increasing the use of recycled ELV materials in new vehicles.

Government assistance to the industry

The Commonwealth currently provides over $1 billion in assistance to the car manufacturing industry under a program which is due to be reviewed in 2002 (administered by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources).

Increasing ELV material recycling

It could be argued that the greatest environmental outcomes could result from instituting an EPR model, as this would overcome the current disjunction between product design and manufacture and end of life treatment.

However, the impact of such an approach would need to be carefully considered before being introduced in Australia, given the significant detrimental impacts it could have on the local industry, the current lack commercially viable markets for recycled plastics materials, and other factors discussed earlier.

However, it must be recognised that manufacturers play a major role in determining the extent to which their vehicles can be recycled, and hence, the level of waste and resource loss that occurs.

In addition, there appears to be limited information on the technical and market impediments to achieving higher levels of recycling of the materials found in ELVs, including the development of collection infrastructure and secondary markets.

Successful models exist internationally for the co-operative development of solutions between manufacturers, ELV recyclers and other stakeholders, such as in the Netherlands (Auto Recycling Nederland - ARN - for further information see, for example, Ref. 4, p.29-30) and ACORD in the UK (see text box below).

More efficient solutions are likely to result from industry developed, rather than imposed, solutions.

EXAMPLE OF AN INUDSTRY FORUM - ACORD (UK)

The Automobile Consortium on Recycling and Disposal (ACORD) was set up in 1991 and includes car and materials' manufacturers, dismantlers and materials' recyclers. In 1997 they signed a voluntary agreement committing themselves to make significant improvements in the amount of material recovered from vehicles. In particular, targets have been agreed to improve the recovery of material to 85% by weight by 2002 and 95% by 2015.

A number of initiatives are covered by the ACORD agreement including:

Recycling of shredder flock - pyrolysis

In overseas markets, pyrolysis has been touted as a possible solution to the problem shredder residue. It is still in its infancy, and appears not to have been profitably used as a means of treating shredder flock.

Pyrolysis relies on controlled thermal decomposition of shredder flock in an oxygen free chamber. The organic fraction of flock (approximately half) is condensed into gas and oil which are similar in composition and performance to natural gas and heavy crude oil. The residual inorganic material creates a solid that may have applications in plastics and asphalt.

As well as technical and commercial limitations, pyrolysis has also been criticised by some environmentalists for causing more pollution than fossil fuels. The way in which organochlorins (from PVC) are released is also unclear. It is not likely to be a practical solution to increased recycling in the near future in Australia.

The Argonne technique

A further thermal separation method, known as the Argonne technique (it was developed at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago), is being widely touted in Europe by a business called SALYP that has adopted the technology. It refers to the practice as "thermo plastic sorting" (tps). SALYP claims to separate various materials from shredder flock, including foam from seats, hard plastics and elastomers. The company states that the process will allow for low cost separation and recycling of these materials. (Further details are at Ref. 24). The system is in its infancy and its claims should be monitored as it is further tested in Europe - this technology is also unlikely to provide a practical solution in the near future.

Incineration

Waste disposal through incineration and energy recovery (for instance in cement kilns in place of fossil fuels) is widely practiced; particularly those with landfill shortages and high landfill charges (Europe, Japan etc).

Discussions during the review did not provide any examples of shredder flock being incinerated ("thermal recycling") in Australia. One metal recycler suggested that it might be partly due to the poor public perception of incinerators and the fact that landfill costs were sufficiently low to not warrant its pursuit as a disposal option.

Although studies show shredder flock has a high calorific value, one recycler indicated that shredder residue does not burn well or completely, leaving substantial residues. Other studies have referred to this difficulty: "it turns out that shredder residue is difficult to burn and, in many cases, incineration does little to reduce either its volume or its chemical potency" (Ref. 27, p4). In addition, the hazardous materials in shredder flock (including PCBs and PVC) may cause adverse environmental emissions.

Nevertheless, other countries have essentially outlawed the disposal of shredder flock in landfill and have instead promoted the development of incinerators (eg. Sweden, Netherlands). There is, therefore, conflicting information on the viability of incineration as a disposal option.

Flock Recycling

Shredder residue has potential applications as a feedstock for new plastic goods, such as fence posts, park benches etc. One metal recycler is currently working to investigate the potential for flock recycling. The shredder flock is mixed with other materials (ice cream containers, recycled tyres) and can be used to produce products such as timber substitutes. The product is low grade due to the variety of materials in the flock, but can be used as a substitute for Building materials. Its benefits in maritime applications were highlighted.

One advantage of this form of disposal is that hazardous materials in shredder residue are essentially rendered harmless by being bonded into a product with apparently minimal tendency to leach.

However, international literature indicates that the use of shredder flock as a feedstock has been slow to develop due to inexpensive substitutes, costs of maintaining the equipment, and insufficient demand to sustain the market (eg. Ref. 5, p.15).

Nevertheless discussions could continue to be pursued with metal recyclers and other interested parties.