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Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time.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


Heavy metals

Introduction

This chapter discusses issues associated with reducing or eliminating the use of heavy metals in new vehicles.

There are long lead times before changes in manufacturing arrangements produce results for vehicles at the end of their lives. Accordingly, consideration also needs to be given to those vehicles which already on the roads.

Recent developments

The recent European Directive (2000/53/EC) (Ref: 8) on end of life vehicles sets stringent requirements on manufacturers to ensure the use of heavy metals is phased out as far as is practical in the manufacture of new vehicles.

Manufacturers themselves have also been increasingly responding to the threat of such legislation, and to some extent, their own corporate environmental goals, by working towards the reduction or elimination of these heavy metals.

During the review, information from local car manufacturers indicated that they have, to varying degrees, taken a real interest in this issue. Most have set in place various initiatives to reduce the use of these materials and indicated willingness to pursue the possibility of formalising and announcing targets with FCAI involvement.

Extract from European Parliament Directive on End of Life Vehicles

"It is important that preventative measures be applied from the conception phase of the vehicle onwards and take the form, in particular, of reduction and control of hazardous substances in vehicles, in order to prevent their release into the environment, to facilitate recycling and to avoid the disposal of hazardous waste. In particular, the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium should be prohibited. These heavy metals should only be used in certain applications according to a list which will be regularly reviewed. This will help to ensure that certain materials and components do not become shredder residues, and are not incinerated or disposed of in landfill." Directive 2000/53/EC, 18 September 2000, Preamble, s.11, emphasis added).

Industry views and initiatives

Australian manufacturers and the FCAI indicated opposition to any measures to force the industry to phase out the use of these materials in domestically manufactured/assembled and imported vehicles. The FCAI commented that "with time, individual car company policies and technology changes would see the elimination of toxic materials such as lead, chromium and mercury".

It is accepted that manufacturers are moving to reduce or eliminate the use of these substances, as regulations loom in European and other major markets, and as they increasingly seek to project corporate cultures attuned to environmental concerns.

These changes will flow through to Australian vehicles with time. It is also needs to be recognised that Australia is very small market in the international context, with relatively low investment and low volume facilities, and that significant industry impacts could be expected if Australian regulators attempted to impose world leading environmental criteria.

In the case of Holden, which exports engines to Europe, the imminent regulatory changes for that market are already producing changes in the use of heavy metals in those components (eg. the use of chromate on zinc for fastener coatings). This is an exception to the rule. Australian manufacturers almost entirely provide for the domestic market and do not export to the large European, Japanese or North American markets (there are some exports to the Middle East, Brazil etc). Accordingly, the direct impact on Australian manufactured vehicles of international regulatory changes will be minimal.

However most Australian manufactures are intending to reduce or phase out the heavy metals of concern (where viable alternatives exist) with future product models. Head office directives were largely driving these requirements.

The manufacturers were helpful in providing broad details of their current forward planning in this regard. Given possible commercial sensitivities, those details are not described in this report.

If the pace of removing these materials is considered to be waining, then strategies to promote their removal might need to be developed.

Any regulated or other changes to requirements for the manufacturing process must also recognise the long lead times in new vehicles design and manufacture.

Any imposed requirement on industry could give rise to potential economic inefficiencies, and may not be necessary given the fact that the industry is already moving in the right direction. The size and nature of the local industry and market compared with Europe also needs to be recognised. Other objectives also need to be considered, particularly that of ensuring an economically sustainable domestic auto manufacturing industry.

Initial discussions with manufacturers suggest there may be merit in pursuing a co-operative approach to reducing the use of heavy metals in new vehicles. Any such approach would need to recognise the lead times and logistical realities of new vehicle model changes. The technical limitations of phasing out the materials also needs to be recognised - there are a very small number of applications in vehicle manufacture for which there are currently no readily available substitutes to heavy metals. This is also reflected in late amendments to the European legislation.

Formalising any such goals could also have benefits for the industry - with public relations/corporate image advantages, and, significantly, a strong statement that the Australian car industry is internationally competitive in addressing ELV environmental concerns.

Further detail on hazardous substances and their application in vehicle manufacture

Ford Australia is particularly noteworthy in that they have worldwide requirements relating to the use of hazardous substances which their manufacturers and suppliers have to comply with and report on.

Key Finding