Progress still slow on vehicle recycling, study shows

Four years after its entry into force, the implementation of the End-Of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive is still beset by significant problems. According to a new study, complex administrative requirements and reluctance by some members states to impose additional costs on automakers are among the main stumbling blocks. 

A new study, commissioned by the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee of the European Parliament and completed in March 2007 by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), has found that only the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Austria have made good progress on implementation.

Success in these member states, the report says, can be attributed to sufficient resources and effective administrative systems, backed by  “early experience of operating a highly regulated system of car disposal”. 

But other member states, including the UK and Italy, have not fared so well. Problems include:

  • Significant differences in the waste-management and administrative structures of member states;
  • the complexity of the administrative requirements of the directive, including the need in some cases to establish new systems and standards;
  • the reluctance by some member states to impose more costs on carmakers, particularly in states in which car production is a major source of employment, and;
  • lack of resources, both financial and administrative, particularly in many of the new member states.

Other problems relate to illegal activity. Carmakers or other facilities that accept end-of-life vehicles at no cost are required to issue destruction certificates to the final owner of the vehicle. Numerous “rogue traders,” however, undermine this system by buying old vehicles and then re-selling scrap metal or other parts and dumping the vehicles without any respect for environmental standards. A number of cars are also exported outside the EU and dumped in countries with less stringent disposal laws. 

The report also cites a general lack of public awareness about the requirements, or even the existence, of the law. 

According to the European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA), the ELV Directive is "bureaucratic, inflexible, partly contradictory to other environmental regulations and too costly without generating the necessary environmental wins". 

The European Environment Bureau (EEB) has been more supportive of the ELV Directive, and has charged that ACEA's "strong opposition" to the directive "is based on the lowest common denominator and not on the best performance of this sector".

Concering the IEEP report, a spokesperson for ACEA commented that it "confirms many things ACEA companies have been highlighting for some time. For example: the fact that it is not always clear that fees for recycling paid by the importer or vendor go to recycling in the end, and the lack (in some countries) of a solid registration system, which results in cars being exported to Africa or elsewhere that should have been taken apart, and Europe missing the opportunity to re-use valuable materials." 

Adopted in September 2000, the purpose of the ELV Directive is to prevent waste and promote the collection, re-use and recycling of car components. The Directive sets the target for re-use, recycling and recovery of vehicles and their components to 85% of the total weight of the vehicle by 2006, an increase of 10% since 2000. 

Implementation of the Directive, which entered into force in April 2002, has been plagued by difficulties and delays (EURACTIV 29/01/2003). Problems have included the complexity of the Directive and the issue of cost to carmakers, who are responsible for properly disposing of vehicles at the end of their life cycle without any cost to the final owner of the vehicle (EURACTIV 13/08/2001 and 29/08/2001). 

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