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Residue as a resource

Meeting the new 95% end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recovery target in 2015 presents a big challenge to UK metals recyclers, who will ultimately drive its achievement by investing in new technologies and processes. Although excellent progress has been made, the industry needs support from the Government to ensure the right infrastructure is put in place to enable it to meet these ambitious European targets and to harness a valuable energy source.

The relatively high value of metals means they are globally traded commodities and so relatively small quantities have gone to landfill. This, alongside rapidly developing recovery processes and markets for other materials, means the proportion of materials recycled from ELVs has grown significantly in recent years at little or no cost to the state or manufacturers.

“Dedicated facilities for recovering energy from shredder residues are now urgently required because the UK faces a 95% ELV recovery target in 2015”

In particular, excellent progress has been made in the recovery of rubber and plastics. The industry is now confident that it can process much of the 800,000 tonnes or so of automotive shredder residue (ASR) currently sent to landfill in the UK every year. Although some of the residue cannot be separated into discrete materials streams, it can be recovered as thermal energy in dedicated plants, replacing more conventional sources of fossil fuel.

Until now, the focus for the thermal processing of alternative fuel sources in Europe and the UK has been on household waste. The UK’s Renewables Obligation Certificates incentive scheme, which underpins investments in the development of dedicated energy-from-waste (EfW) plants to deal with municipal refuse, has further served to create an obstacle to investment planning in industrial recovery processes.

However, dedicated facilities for recovering energy from shredder residues are now urgently required because the UK faces a 95% ELV recovery target in 2015. Major metals recyclers in the UK are ready to take the crucial next step in establishing dedicated thermal processing plants to handle the residue drawn from the 46 ELV shredders operating across the UK. But investment decisions are currently on hold because the Government appears unwilling to take positive steps to designate this as a ‘recovery’ process.

The BMRA is working on behalf of UK metals recyclers to press the Government to exercise its authority to designate energy generated by the thermal processing of shredder residue as ‘recovery’ rather than ‘disposal’. Our view is that neither EU Directive nor judgement by the European Court of Justice provides a prescriptive answer to these questions in the case of industrial residues and that it is down to the member states to dictate policy. Such clarification is required urgently if sufficient capacity is to be in place to enable us to help the UK to achieve its recovery target.

The case for classifying the thermal processing of ASR as recovery is clear in just the same way as it is for the domestic waste stream. Equally, Government support is needed to ensure that the infrastructure for recovering energy from ASR is in place.

The metals recycling industry needs support to ensure the thermal processing of residual materials is added to the range of tools deployed by the industry to help Government meet its European obligations. There is a clear opportunity for the UK to take a lead here and offer automotive manufacturers, car owners and the recovery supply chain the confidence that we can meet the 2015 ELV recovery target.
Ian Hetherington is director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association

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