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Care taken to rip cars apart

French car maker Renault and recycling company SITA France are increasing joint efforts to boost the recycling of materials from the country’s end-of-life vehicle (ELV) sector. The two companies aim to radically improve teardown, recycling and used-part recovery at 350 state-certified dismantlers across France.

The auto wrecker network, which scrapped 350,000 cars in 2009, is the centerpiece of a joint venture that will invest €100m (£85m) in ELV recycling activities during the 2008-13 period.

SITA, the waste management division of European environmental services giant Suez Environnement, is no stranger to the ELV sector. It held a 35% minority stake in Indra Investissement, which built and managed the auto wrecker network before 2008 and has long played a key role in the incineration of vehicle waste. The joint venture with Renault is part of SITA’s wider bid to increase its profile across the recycling sector, according to director general of SITA Recyclage, Hugues Percie du Sert.

“We wanted to anticipate what was happening,” Percie du Sert told MRW. “When your business is recycling, you can’t ignore the ELV sector. The tonnage is so high and the quality of the materials is so interesting that we decided it had to be a key element of our future plans.”

EU regulation is the principal factor driving SITA’s forward-looking perspective. The ELV Directive aims to reduce the amount of waste, and notably hazardous waste, that is produced when cars are scrapped. The directive currently requires member states to ensure that a minimum 85% of the total weight of scrapped cars is either reused or recycled, and then hikes the minimum recycling and reuse rate to 95% by 2015. It also forces car makers to ensure that all new vehicles are designed to meet these standards.

Renault, already known for its fuel-efficient vehicles and a massive ongoing push into electric vehicles, launched the joint venture with SITA in 2008 to demonstrate its green credentials and comply with the regulations. “The end-of-life recycling initiative has turned into a laboratory for eco-conception and other environmental initiatives,” says Renault recycling engineering manager, Fabrice Abraham.

The lab conditions Abraham refers to are principally found at four innovative dismantling sites owned and operated by the joint venture in different parts of France. After observing dismantling and recycling processes, Renault has added easily accessible siphons into fuel tank and radiator designs, to allow simpler drainage and collection of fluids. It has also led to the redesign of some plastic parts to reduce mixing materials that are incompatible in the recycling process.

“Everything we do on the eco-design side should simplify operations for dismantlers,” says Abraham.

“The end-of-life recycling initiative has turned into a laboratory for eco-conception and other environmental initiatives”

Beyond ensuring recyclability, the French car maker says its ELV recycling initiative should eventually improve the quality of new plastic made from recycled materials and help it to meet goals to include 20% of recycled plastic in all new vehicles by 2015.

Percie du Sert seconds Renault’s enthusiasm for R&D taking place at the pilot sites. “Being there with dismantlers has helped us better understand the business and really become full players in the ELV recycling process,” he says. 

SITA has seen dramatic improvement in both used parts recovery and sales, thanks to better parts removal techniques and the creation of a computerised parts database. It has also speeded implementation of new sorting and recycling techniques for difficult materials, including plastics and cables.

“We’re already compliant with today’s 85% recovery objective at the joint venture-owned sites,” Percie du Sert says. This performance compares favourably with the 81% national industry average reported in mid-2008 by the French agency for energy management and the environment, ADEME. The report notes that France’s 1,300 licensed shredders and dismantlers handle 1.5 to two million cars annually, but recognises that data on compliance with the EU directive is still incomplete.

While Renault and SITA say their joint venture is dramatically improving knowledge about the ELV sector, they admit that it has also highlighted long-term challenges for meeting recyclability targets, notably for automotive glass, plastics, textiles, and tyres.

“We have this 95% recycling and reuse objective, but the cars keep evolving,” Percie du Sert says. “You have to realise that when cars have more plastic and less metal, not to mention more glass, the challenge is going to be considerable.”

SITA is already one of Europe’s leading producers of waste tyre granulates, which is burned as fuel by some heavy industrial plants. Tyre waste is also used by the French construction sector, in infrastructure projects and to build sports fields, urban recreation areas and children’s playgrounds.

Percie du Sert predicts that SITA will soon find new markets for fine tyre granulate, particularly in the road construction sector, where the material can drastically cut noise pollution. “It costs a bit more than other materials, but it can really improve sound quality,” he says.

Glass is another material that will pose challenges and opportunities for recyclers. SITA is researching new methods of recycling film-coated automotive glass, while Renault is working with industrial partners on potential alternative uses for recycled glass from the ELV sector, including incorporation into building insulation or paint.

“Figuring out glass recycling will be the key to meeting European targets,” Abraham says.

Textiles, foams and plastics found in seats form a third category of ELV waste that has yet to be fully exploited for recycling opportunities. “We’re working on it, and we’re fairly optimistic that there’s an economic way to do it,” Percie du Sert adds.

While recyclers in some countries, notably Britain, are investing strongly in high-tech methods of sorting post-shredder waste, Renault and SITA both insist that improving dismantling practices is the best way forward. “I see dismantling as totally complementary to shredding,” says Percie du Sert.

Plastics sorted from post-shredder waste are often contaminated by trace metals, creating quality concerns that affect price and potential uses. “Clean plastic waste, without these impurities, is much more interesting than post-shredder waste,” Percie du Sert explains. But Duncan Wemyss, secretary of the UK’s Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association, expresses doubt that greater reliance on dismantling operations would see the SITA-Renault joint venture radically improve recycling rates.

“It may be far more economical to liberate useable materials from post-shredder residue than trying to take it off ELVs,” he told MRW.

Some UK-based shredders “are already liberating glass, plastic and rubber into graded material for sale,” Wemyss says, adding that “the technology is there. If France isn’t moving in this direction, it must be a problem of building enough capacity for the size and volume of ELV waste.”

Part of the contrast between the British and French approaches can be explained by contrasting implementation of the EU directive.

In Britain, car manufacturers and distributors are required by law to organise a network of dismantlers and shredders committed to meeting the recycling objectives for the two million ELVs taken out of circulation each year. Two organisations, Autogreen and, work with car makers to ensure free take-back, certified destruction and recycling.

France, on the other hand, decided to let market conditions guide ELV recycling. Dismantlers and shredders must be licenced, but no relationship with car makers or distributors is required. But last April, the European Court of Justice found that the French ELV recycling system had not fully satisfied the terms of the directive, leading environment ministry officials to promise revisions by the year-end.


By Tiffany Holland

Since 2005, EU member states have had to recycle 85% of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). So far, the UK has not quite hit this rate: it achieved a recycling rate of 84.98% for 2008 - missing the target by just 0.02%. The future, therefore, looks bright for 2009’s data.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) says: “The 85% target is a real challenge. But BIS considers that progress has been made, with a significant increase in the number of vehicles reported in 2008 than in 2007, as well as an increase in the tonnage of material recovered above the percentage achieved in 2007.”

However, the ambitious goal of 95% by 2015 looks set to be a much bigger challenge. Already, authorised treatment facilities (ATFs) are forging strong ties with shredder operators to increase the amount of material recovered.

The spokesman explains: “Activities undertaken by ATFs alone are rarely sufficient to meet the 85% target, so separation of materials at shredding facilities is critical. Shredders have invested significantly, and continue to invest, to recover more material from automotive shredder residue and landfill less. Glass is now routinely recycled and an increasing focus is being placed on plastics. As these technologies come to the fore, more capacity will become available.”

The ELV Directive, enforced by the Environment Agency, has been put in place to protect the environment, ensuring that cars are de-polluted and dismantled properly. ATFs are licensed and must operate to specific standards: they produce a certificate of destruction whenever a car is destroyed, they provide a free take-back service of vehicles put on the market from 1 July 2002 and they must mark rubber and plastic vehicle components with dismantling information.

The directive emphasises producer obligations for providing take-back of ELVs through accessible networks of ATFs, and makes it clear that ATFs are responsible for hitting the recycling targets. manager Kathryn Byng adds: “In 2015, we will have to increase recycling to 95%, which is a massive difference from the current target. To recycle plastics and glass at most ATFs is just not practical so, once it has been shredded, the materials can be separated out using different technologies. But 2015 is not that far away and we need to get the technologies in place by then.”

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