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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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


Recycling of metals from ELVs

Introduction

As discussed above, parts are removed from ELVs to the extent that it is commercially viable by parts recyclers. The balance of the ELV is ultimately passed to metal "shredders" where the metal contents are separated for recycling. The balance of the vehicle, known as shredder "flock", "fluff", or "residue" is landfilled.

The environmental impacts of the landfilled, non-metal materials are discussed in Chapter 8.

However, it is important to recognise the positive environmental outcomes that already result from recycling the metal fraction of ELVs, and the importance of not jeopardising current recycling levels by decreasing the viability of ELV processing by metal recyclers.

Key Finding

The Metal Separation Process

ELVs are processed through automated "shredders", along with other end of life metal products (such as white goods). Shredders were introduced from the 1960s, which, along with the advent of electric arc furnaces, transformed the metal recycling industry (useful history see Ref.4, pp.10-12).

Shredders are capable of processing ELVs at the rate of 200 per hour - equivalent to one ELV every 20 seconds. The efficiency of the highly expensive machines is a key element in the profitability of the metal recycling industry.

A powerful shredding action processes vehicles into fist-sized pieces of ferrous scrap of a high physical and chemical quality. The high quality ferrous scrap is sought after by steel makers, with ready domestic and international markets.

Many vehicle components are made of non-ferrous materials, such as copper, aluminium and zinc. In the shredding process, magnetic separation is used to remove the magnetic ferrous fraction from other materials. The non-ferrous metals pass to further stages for segregation into various material types. Eddy-current separators induce energy that will literally project one non-ferrous metal from another and any surrounding materials (6, p.1-2).

Efficiency of metal recovery from ELVs in Australia

The efficiency with which the metal fraction is recovered from ELVs varies according to the age and technology of the shredders used around Australia. International statistics indicate that the shredder residue (flock) comprises approximately 8% ferrous metal and 4% non-ferrous metals (4, p.29). These figures equate to approximately 98% efficiency in recovering ferrous metals, and 99% recovery of non-ferrous metals, from ELVs.

If all available technologies are used, virtually all metals can be recovered from ELVs. Further media separation technologies can be employed, which may use fluids or mineral suspensions of varying specific gravity that allow selected materials to float while others sink. (6, p.1-2).

Discussions with stakeholders suggested Australian metal shredders are at least as efficient at capturing the metal content as those internationally. It was argued that the concentration of the market in Australia (with only a few shredding companies) produces greater economies of scale allowing for higher levels of investment in the latest separation technology. This was contrasted to the large number (350 or so) of smaller scale shredder operators in Europe and the United States. Simsmetal's Melbourne shredder was claimed to be one of the largest in the world. Metalcorp recently installed a $10m shredder at their Brisbane facility, which was claimed to be state of the art.

One metal recycler recently undertook a study in association with the NSW Waste Boards which indicated that approximately 32% (by weight) of the shredder flock tested was magnetic. Subsequent trials of a "new and improved" shredder produced a 13.5% increase in material recovered, the majority of which was ferrous material.

The efficiency of the shredders also has a direct bearing on the quantity of heavy metals (such as lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium etc) that end up in the waste from the process which is disposed to landfill (this issue is discussed further below). One recycler argued that the high recovery rates from the advanced eddy current systems used in their shredders produces significantly lower levels of heavy metals in shredder flock than that quoted in international statistics.

Positive Environmental Outcomes of recycling ELV metals

In the United States it has been claimed "the automobile is the country's most highly recycled consumer product" (5, p.1). While no data were obtained during this study to establish the recycling ranking of various products in Australia, it is apparent that there is already a relatively high level of ELV recycling as a result of the commercial value of the metal content.

If it is assumed that: 500,000 ELVs reach metal shredders each year; average ELV weight is 1,300 kilograms (this is conservative, see 27, p.2 for example); and 70% of the ELV is recoverable metal content, then:

Recycled metals consume significantly less energy and water, and produce less air pollution, than smelting processes (eg. Refs: 1 and 6).

It has been estimated that, compared to manufacture from virgin materials, recycled steel:

For other metals, the energy savings are: aluminium - 95%; copper - 85%; lead - 65%; zinc - 60%.

(sources: see for example: Ref: 1, p.12 and 6, p.2)

Findings

Economics of Metal Recycling

Metal recycling in Australia is a competitive industry, with two large firms and a couple of smaller players making up the industry. A recent new entrant is the first in many years. As discussed earlier, demand for recycled metal is currently sufficient to warrant the extensive retrieval of ELVs from even remote parts of the country, with the shredder companies bearing most or all of the associated costs. However, any measures that increased the costs of processing ELVs could seriously affect current ELV recovery and recycling levels.

Recycled steel is the metal with the lowest value but greatest volume. As a rough guide, recycled metals may fetch:

Steel US$100-110 CIF per tonne4
Aluminium US $950 CIF per tonne
Copper US $250 CIF per tonne

(Note: indicative only - no formal confirmation of these values has been sought)

Recovered metal is sold to domestic metal producers (such as BHP) or exported internationally (primarily to Asia) according to demand and prices in different markets.

A key point made by the metal recycling industry is that the profitability of ELV shredding is dependent to a significant degree on the non-ferrous metal fractions. They warned against recycling measures that would have the effect of reducing the amount of these high value metals that reached the shredders.

This claim could not be independently tested, nevertheless, the issue should be carefully considered when developing policy measures to address ELV environmental outcomes. A requirement for components to be removed which constitute a large proportion of the high value metals going to the shredders may have a negative impact on the level of ELV recycling overall.

Key Findings