The Shifting Paradigm of Automotive Recycling – an Australian perspective

By Sarfraz Ali Kyani

WITH more than 1.4 billion cars worldwide, car ownership over the past two decades has been increasing at a rate higher than the rate of population growth itself. A scrappage rate of 7 per cent a year proposes that 98 million end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) are currently present in the world.

Given its environmental impact, the waste produced by these ELVs is a global concern for governments, environmental protection agencies, and the public.

In the mid-1990s, and under growing strain from national governments, the global automobile industry made voluntary agreements to enhance the recovery and recycling rates and take responsibility for ELV treatment. As part of the legislation, most countries made it mandatory to reuse, recover, and recycle ELVs.

The European Union (EU) took the lead and introduced a directive on ELVs in 2000. As per the EU-Directive 2000/53/EC on ELV (2000), member countries were told to create waste collection systems for ELVs.

They had to strengthen the reuse of suitable vehicle components and prioritise recycling where environmentally viable.

It also mandated that EU countries had to meet the targets of reuse and recovery and reuse and recycling, at least 95 per cent and 85 per cent respectively, by 2015 onwards. Along with setting targets, the directive encouraged vehicle manufacturers to 1) minimise the use of hazardous substances in vehicles; 2) design vehicles that facilitate dismantling and recycling; and 3) increase the usage of recycled materials in manufacturing new vehicles (The Council of The European Union, 2000).

In Japan, the recycling of an ELV is considered a priority area. To create a recycling system, the Ministry of Environment passed the ‘ELV Recycling Law’ in 2002. Under the law, recycling automotive shredder residue (ASR) targets were set at 70 per cent by 2015, matching an overall ELV recycling rate of 95 per cent by 2015 onwards.

Similar directives were passed in China where the ELV recycling regulation enforced in2001; and in Korea where the Act for Resource Recycling for Electrical Equipment and Vehicles was put in place in 2008.

It can be observed that a few vital external factors enabled these countries to recycle theirELVs efficiently and create a sustainable automotive industry. These factors were: 1)prioritising environmental sustainability, based on sustainable development goals SDGs (UN, 2015); 2) strict regulatory framework, such as the EU’s ELV Directive (2000); and3) technical capabilities of auto recyclers to innovate and explore efficient recycling mechanisms.

By contrast, the ELV management system in Australia is driven by economic market contemplations due to a lack of ELV regulation and inadequate recycling technology.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021), there are 20.1 million registered motor vehicles in the country as of 31 January 2021. The ELV management is determined by economic mechanisms, with no prevailing national regulation linked to ELV disposal.

Auto-recyclers collect ELVs for the worth of metal scrap, and they are liable for removing ELV waste at their own cost. The volume of waste ELVs bring about is substantial and costly.

Even with the lack of ELV legislation in the country, the discarding of a few toxic substances is carried out under diverse and broadly defined voluntary product stewardship schemes bound by the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act (2020).

The stewardship schemes include parties voluntarily pursuing accreditation for their product stewardship plan from the government. This includes Tyre Stewardship Australia(TSA Australia, 2016), the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act (2000), and the Australian BatteryRecycling Initiative (2021). Hence, recycling some auto parts,
Approximately 28 per cent of end-of-life vehicle parts end up in landfills like tyres, batteries, and fluids is taken under these organisations.

One of the key concerns arising from the voluntary-based waste policy is the competition among authorised and unauthorised recycling operators.

The unauthorised and illegitimate recycling operators do not observe the environmental standards and offer competitive prices in the ELV collection because of their low recycling costs. This has subsequently led to the discarding of a significant amount of ELV waste to landfills without appropriate treatment.

According to recent reports, about 28 per cent of the ELV as ASR goes to landfills. The car plastics going into Australian landfills each year weighs approximately 140,000 tonnes. This is about 6 per cent of the total plastic waste (2.5 million tonnes) generated in the country.

In late 2019, MTA Queensland partnered with the Australian Research Council (ARC) on a five-year project, titled the ARC Training Centre for Multiscale 3D Imaging, Modelling and manufacturing (M3D). I am the lead researcher from the Queensland University of technology (QUT) working on the subproject ‘recycling of automotive parts for additive manufacturing. I am working closely with the government, MTAQ and other key decision-makers to shape policy development for the automotive industry.

More importantly, the research project investigates ways to recycle auto-plastics, convert them into base materials for 3D printing, and further explore the second-hand plastic market in Australia. And in doing so, devise a sustainable business strategy for the Australian auto recycling industry.

Source: Inside Waste Magazine

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