I’ve heard that some European countries require cars to be recycled. Is this true?
—Glen Palmer, West Palm Beach, FL
Back in February 2000, in response to the realization that discarded autos accounted for a tenth of the hazardous waste spilling out of Europe”s landfills, the European Union (EU) decided to shift the burden of environmental responsibility squarely onto the carmakers themselves. Now until 2007, in all 25 EU member countries, carmakers must recycle 80 percent of the vehicles they manufacture; in 2015, the percent increases to 85. In addition, the law requires all automakers selling their products in Europe to stop using toxic heavy metals, such as the mercury sometimes found in auto trunk light switches.
The recycling law also applies retroactively; forcing carmakers to pick up the full tab for disposing of every auto they ever produced. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association, a trade group, believes the measure will cost industry around $23 billion, based on a recycling cost of around $155 a car and an estimated 150 million cars currently on the European roads.
In response, automakers across Europe are redesigning their new models with recycling in mind. Germany”s Volkswagen, for example, conducted extensive research on how to maximize efficiency in recycling its fleet. The company concluded that extensive dismantling of vehicles before crushing significantly cut down on waste, and then designed its most recent Golf with a dashboard built for easy and complete removal by a dismantler. And to facilitate ease in recycling auto plastic, VW replaced potentially contaminating adhesives with clips and now uses a standardized plastic wherever possible. In another example, BMW now makes instrument panels out of a standardized plastic that can be broken down and re-molded back into the same instrument panels with 99.5 percent purity.
The world”s major non-European automakers, including Ford, General Motors and Toyota, sell many vehicles throughout Europe and have begun building networks of recycling facilities tailored to their respective vehicle lines. Toyota, for instance, has set up almost 600 recycling sites in four European countries.
Although American automakers are not subject to such strict regulations at home, they have been recycling cars since the first Model T rolled off Henry Ford”s production line. Today, American-made cars are among the most recycled consumer items. According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a U.S. trade group, approximately 82 percent of an average vehicle”s weight gets recycled. Ford and General Motors are pioneering the use of recycling-friendly design on their new lines of automobiles, going so far as implementing environmentally-friendly “closed loop” manufacturing systems and distributing End-of-Life-Vehicle (ELV) dismantling manuals listing parts and their material content.
CONTACTS: European Automobile Manufacturers Association, www.acea.be ; Volkswagen, www.volkswagen.co.uk/company/environment/recycling ; Ford Motor Company Vehicle Recycling, www.ford.com/en/goodWorks/environment/recycling/vehicleRecycling.htm .