I penned this piece for the February 2011 edition of Canadian Technician
Why regulated standards are needed for end-of-life vehicles
Approximately 1.5 passenger vehicles either reach the end of their useful lives or are damaged in accidents beyond repair (and subsequently “retired”) each year in Canada.
Even so, these end-of-life vehicles (ELV) have considerable economic value. In particular, the metal associated with vehicle construction ensures that most ELVs are eventually recycled as scrap metal. While there are no comprehensive sources of data related to the percentage of automobiles in Canada that are recovered and processed, all indications are that more than 90% of ELVs are processed to various degrees.
While the base metal recycling rate for automobiles is relatively high, not all automobiles are processed properly before being recycled for the metal content. Vehicles are generally compressed and shredded before they are shipped to bulk metal recyclers – often without the substances of concern being removed beforehand.
This practice is prevalent because for certain types of ELV processors, it’s more profitable to avoid the additional cost of removing harmful substances. In these cases fluids are often absorbed into vehicle shredder residue while other toxic substances – including mercury, lead and ozone-depleting gasses – are released into the environment.
A number of automotive recyclers that are primarily in the ELV processing sector focus on vehicle dismantling and “de-pollution” services. Many of these ELV processors are members of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC). ARC members provide ELV management to the federal government’s Retire Your Ride vehicle scrappage incentive program, which requires adherence to the National Code of Practice for Automotive Recyclers participating in the National Vehicle Scrappage Program.
The National Code is implemented in Ontario as the Certified Auto Recycler (O-CAR) program. In Ontario, every vehicle recycled by a member of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA is the provincial affiliate of ARC) goes through a methodical process to maximize reclamation of environmentally-sensitive materials in order to minimize the environmental impact. Batteries – as well as substances of concern such as mercury switches, motor oils, windshield washer fluid, coolants, brake fluids, gasoline, and refrigerants – are all removed and properly managed prior to forwarding or processing the remaining vehicular hulk for metal recycling.
While recycling ELV materials such as aluminum and steel contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions and pollution (in comparison to making such metals from virgin materials), reuse of vehicle parts generates significant additional environmental benefits through reduced pollution and material requirements associated with the manufacture of new parts.
Reusing parts also has economic benefits in terms of providing vehicle owners with a cost-effective source of replacement parts. Reuse of parts also providers the aftermarket repair and custom sector with a similar source of parts while lowering insurance claim costs as body shops and repair shops are able to access refurbished parts recovered from ELV vehicles.
Recognizing that Retire Your Ride is set to expire in March, OARA has been working with the Ontario government to transform O-CAR from a voluntary processing standard to a regulated environmental standard. If implemented, the standard will be administered by an oversight body that will ensure ELV processors operate consistently to that standard. Concurrently, OARA is collaborating with environmental groups and a number of leading auto manufacturers that have recognized the need to ensure ELVs are properly processed at the end of their operating lives.
With about three of every four cars in Canada not being managed to any environmental standard whatsoever, the opportunity to go green and grow the ELV processing and refurbished auto-parts sector of the Canadian automotive industry is enormous.
The goals of regulating ELV processing are ambitious but readily achievable: maximize reuse and recycling, minimize waste and pollution, drive growth and investment in the ELV processing sector, do not increase costs to purchasers of new vehicles while providing lower cost replacement parts to insurers, vehicle owners and customers of the Canadian automotive aftermarket repair industry.
Guest Column – Usman Valiante is a principal of Corporate Policy Group which specializes in business and government policies and programs for the environment.