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Everything you need to know about the end of life vehicles directive

12 minutes for read

The EU targets for recycling passenger and light vehicles are setting world standards for automobile production. 

This is because the European End of Life Vehicles Directive makes producers and importers responsible for limiting the environmental and safety impact of automobile waste.

Each year, 8 to 9 million tonnes of waste are produced by end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) in the EU. In this article, you will learn how the Directive is driving the industry’s initiatives towards circularity and sustainability.

What is the end-of-life vehicles directive (ELV)?

The End-of-life vehicles Directive is a law initiated by the European Union in 2000 to reduce the environmental damage by end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). The goal of the Directive is to prevent the waste of materials used to produce automobiles.

To this end, the Directive set targets for all economic operators in the life cycle of vehicles to increase reuse, recycling, and recovery of material. It’s relevant for cars and light vehicles but doesn’t cover motorcycles and heavy-duty trucks.

Directive 2000/53/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on end-of-life vehicles was one of the first proposals by the European Commission to tackle waste streams.

Amendments have been made through four Commission Decisions in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005. The Directive (EU) 2018/849 made further amendments by adding new minimum requirements for the treatment and certification of ELVs and coding standards for recycling and recovery of parts.

The consolidated Directive currently requires that each member nation takes steps to implement the following goals:

  • Encourage sustainable design and production of vehicles by considering recycling and recovery of materials when dismantling ELVs to avoid waste generation.

  • Eliminate the use of hazardous heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and hexavalent chromium and increase the use of recycled materials to produce new vehicles.

  • Set up collection centres for the free take-back of ELVs and discarded spare parts during repairs.

  • Introduce extended producer responsibility schemes to make producers pay all or part of the costs of collection and treatment of ELVs.

  • Set up authorised treatment centres which meet high environmental standards.

  • Set the following recovery and recycling targets for producers to achieve by 1 January 2015 – Minimum reuse/ recycling of 85 per cent by weight per vehicle. Minimum reuse/ recovery of 95 per cent by weight per vehicle.

The member states initially had difficulties implementing the Directive and differences remain in achieving the targets. However, by 2019, the EU had managed to reach these targets, with a material recovery rate of 95.1 per cent and a recycling rate of 89.6 per cent; see Figure 1. 

In 2021, Germany had the best recycling and recovery rates for ELVs and exceeded average EU rates by 7.5 per cent.

Figure 1: “Reuse/recovery and reuse/recycling rates for end-of-life vehicles in 2019 (per cent of the weight of vehicles) Source: Eurostat (env_waselv).” (Image credits: End-of-life vehicle statistics)

In 2020, the EU began a review to improve and bring the Directive in line with the requirements of the New Green Deal. A new ELV Directive is expected by the end of 2022, which will address issues surrounding the export of polluting vehicles.

It will also seek to make use of recycled plastic mandatory for some components in cars, as plastic is the second-largest category of material used after metals in car builds.

What happens to end-of-life vehicles?

End-of-life vehicles have no negative value and need to be scrapped as they’re considered waste. There are two types of ELVs – natural and premature. Natural ELVs are vehicles, which lose technical or economic value because they’re used and old, while premature ELVs lose value due to accidents and are written off.

These ELVs contain both useful and hazardous components. About 8 to 9 million tonnes of automobile waste is generated each year in the EU, of which 25 per cent is hazardous. Of this, 6.9 million tonnes of vehicle waste was scrapped in the EU in 2019. 

As prescribed by the ELV Directive, all stakeholders in the vehicle life cycle have a role to play and ELVs must go through the following steps in the ELVs disposal route (as shown in Figure 2):

  • Owners must bring the end-of-life vehicle to their new or used car dealer. The dealers send the ELVs to collectors or dismantlers.

  • Car owners have to get a certificate of destruction from the car dealer or authorised collecting and treatment facilities to deregister the vehicle, depending on the country.

  • Authorised dismantlers and collectors dismantle the car to remove reusable parts for sale, such as engines, gearboxes, body parts, airbags, etc. Dismantlers also depollute ELVs by removing batteries and draining air conditioner fluids and oils in a safe environment. They also have permission to destroy special waste. Thorough separation by dismantlers can significantly reduce waste in subsequent stages.

  • Shredders further dismantle car parts but also shred the body. Metal components get separated from the nonmetals and are sent for recycling, back to vehicle producers to make the same components, or sent to other users. Automobile shredder residue (ASR) is composed of non-metal items (fabric, paper, wood, plastic, rubber, etc.) and iron.

  • Energy recovery is the next step. Combustible parts of the car in ASR are used instead of other fuels in industrial processes like cement production.

  • Landfilling of the remaining ASR occurs after strict control. The ELV Directive aims to reduce landfilling to less than 5 per cent of the materials in ELV.

Despite the ELV Directive, about one-third of ELVs in the EU is not deregistered. These are illegally exported and scrapped or abandoned.

Figure 2: “Steps in ELV Recycling according to the EVL directive.” (Image credits: End-of-life vehicle recycling in the European Union)

How do ELTs fit into all of this?

End-of-life tires (ELTs) must also be treated, because, under Directive 2000/53/EC, the reuse, recycling, and recovery of any part of the vehicle must also have no negative safety or environmental impact.

Moreover, the Commission Decision 2003/138/EC of 27 February 2003, in keeping with the ELV Directive 2000/53/EC, has established component and material coding standards for rubber (elastomers) and plastics and requires separate recovery of these materials after dismantling. Since tires have both rubber and plastics, they form a separate waste stream.

These ELTs have become a global waste problem since most methods to recycle them also have a negative environmental and safety impact. Moreover, though ELTs are classified as non-hazardous waste, they do contain heavy metals, so they have to be handled with care.

To comply with Directive 2000/53/EC, manufacturers must produce tires from which they can recycle at least 85 per cent and recover 95 per cent of materials. These requirements are spurring a movement towards circularity to recover and recycle material from waste tires.

Newer technologies like pyrolysis have caught the attention of the tire industry as it’s the most efficient and sustainable recycling option for tires. For example, the new improved Contec pyrolysis process can recover 85 per cent of materials in the form of products such as Carbon Black, oil, gas, and steel.

By using 20 per cent of the pyrolytic from recovered Carbon Black as reinforcing filler, tire rubbers can ensure compliance with the ELV Directive clause, which requires manufacturers to incorporate recycled material in their production.

How are car manufacturers affected by this?

Besides recovering and recycling material, vehicle manufacturers and importers have several other responsibilities under the ELV Directive. They’re the pivot between upstream (raw materials) and downstream for vehicles:

  • Producers must design vehicles that are easy to dismantle, reuse, and recycle, and are hazardous substance-free, as it can have a significant impact on the entire life cycle of vehicles. The use of heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium is restricted in-vehicle components. And the production process must also use less energy.

  • Importers and manufacturers must pass on information for dismantling, recycling, and treating components in each model of car and light vehicles below 3.5 tonnes.

  • Importers, manufacturers, and distributors must set up or participate in integrated systems for the free take-back of ELVs within their territory. In most countries, suppliers of individual brands have their own collection systems. In countries like Denmark, a network of dealers collect all vehicles in their area. Spain has a variety of dealers and municipal and authorised treatment centres that collect ELVs.

  • Producers and importers are also responsible for covering the costs of the collection and treatment of ELV waste.

  • Producers and importers of vehicles are responsible for meeting the recycling and recovery targets set by the ELV Directive.

Though producers and suppliers have a major role to play, coordinated action by all players is necessary for any country to achieve the ELV Directive goals of ushering in a green and sustainable change in the vehicle industry. For more information about industry news, subscribe to our LinkedIn newsletter to receive industry-related information about the circular economy in manufacturing.

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