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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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


Introduction to current ELV recycling practices and ELV material composition

Current Recycling Practices

The diagram below illustrates the current ELV processing arrangements.

The ELV passes from the last owner to an automobile "wrecker" (the terms "parts recycler" or "dismantler" are now preferred by the industry) either directly or via third parties such as insurance companies (eg. in the case of insurance "write offs"), used car dealers, and car repairers.

The parts recyclers remove parts that have a commercial value on the second hand market - which may include many mechanical, body and trim components.

The Last Owner

An efficient market operates for the removal of those ELV parts which have an economic value for reuse, with approximately 1000 - 1200 firms in existence whose primary business is parts recycling (source: APRAA). Of those, APRAA estimates approximately 800-900 are "competent" or "legitimate" operators (see Chapter 6).

In a minority of cases, particularly for older model vehicles or those with parts that for other reasons little economic value, the vehicle is taken directly to metal "shredders" or intermediary scrap metal merchants. A number of companies provide a car body removal service for a fee and metal recyclers sometimes operate drop off centres at landfill sites.

Once parts are removed, the metal "shredder" operators generally process the balance of the ELV.

Other than reuse of parts, recycling of materials in ELVs is largely limited to the metal components, for which a competitive market exists. Shredded metal is either smelted and re-processed in Australia, or more commonly exported including to Asian countries, such as Korea. These recyclable ferrous and non-ferrous metal materials in ELVs account for approximately 65%-75% of the ELV by weight.

It is therefore important to note that ELVs are therefore already one of the most highly recycled consumer products with the current metal recycling industry providing substantial environmental benefits (discussed further in Chapter 7). It is estimated in the USA that recycling the metals in ELVs produces annual energy savings equivalent to 3 days of national energy consumption (Ref: 68, p.276).

The non-metal remainder of the ELV exits the shredder as waste residue, known as shredder "fluff" or "flock", which in Australia is mostly disposed of in landfill. Issues associated with shredder flock are discussed in Chapter 8.

Vehicle composition

The nature and extent of materials recycling (and, conversely, waste), is a factor of materials used in vehicle manufacture and the value of those materials in secondary markets.

The average motor vehicle is comprised of approximately 15,000 parts (ref.26p.1). The primary materials used are metals (particularly steel) and plastics. Currently, these account for over 80% of the materials in a vehicle.

Material Proportion by weight (%)
Steel 66
Zinc, copper, lead 2
Aluminium 6
Plastics 9
Rubber (tyres) 4
Adhesive, paints 3
Glass 3
Textiles 1
Fluids 1
Other 3

(Source: 1, p.3)

The figures in the preceding table are indicative only, as various papers estimate slightly different proportions of each material. The metal content in vehicles is variously stated to be between 65% and 75% of modern vehicles, and plastics content at between 7% and 10%. An Australian research article from the mid 1990s quoted statistics for steel and iron content at 63% and aluminium alloys at 10% of total car weight, giving a total metal content of 73% (Ref: 27, p.3).

There may not be a direct correlation between the composition of vehicle materials and shredder flock composition. Factors to consider include the extent and nature of parts removal prior to shredding, and the fact that ELVs sometimes contain non- ELV related waste dumped in the vehicle. One item of particular concern to the shredder operators is the dumping of gas cylinders in ELVs that can cause loud explosions and significant damage to the shredding machinery.

Key Findings