Volume 13, Issue 29 ~ July 21-27, 2005

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Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: www.emagazine.com. Or e-mail us at: [email protected].
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Old Cars Live Again
Is it true that some European countries require cars to be recycled?
In February, 2000, the European Union decided to shift the burden of environmental responsibility squarely onto carmakers themselves, in response to the realization that discarded autos accounted for one-tenth of the hazardous waste spilling out of Europe’s landfills. Carmakers in all 25 E.U. member countries must recycle 80 percent of the vehicles they manufacture; in 2015, the percentage increases to 85. The law also requires all automakers selling their products in Europe to stop using toxic heavy metals, such as mercury sometimes found in auto trunk light switches.

The law also applies retroactively, forcing carmakers to pick up the full tab for disposing of every auto ever produced. The trade group European Automobile Manufacturers Association believes the measure will cost the industry around $23 billion, based on a recycling cost of $155 a car and an estimated 150 million cars on 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. For ease in recycling auto plastic, Volkswagen replaced potentially contaminating adhesives with clips and uses a standardized plastic wherever possible. In another example, BMW 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 vehicles throughout Europe and have begun building networks of recycling facilities. 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 American trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturer, approximately 82 percent of an average vehicle’s weight gets recycled. Ford and GM are pioneering the use of recycling-friendly design on their new lines of automobiles, implementing environmentally friendly closed loop manufacturing systems and distributing End-of-Life-Vehicle dismantling manuals listing parts and their material content.
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