Scrap cars in Germany
Some half million cars and light utility vehicles are scrapped each year in Germany. The exact figure in 2010 was 500,193 vehicles, with a total weight of 516,128 tons. In 2009, the year of the cash for clunkers program, an unprecedented 1.78 million cars were scrapped.
In Germany, most scrap cars are recycled in two stages. First, the cars are dismantled at one of around 1,300 certified dismantling centres, which drain all motor oil, antifreeze and other fluids from the cars, and remove parts that contain pollutants such as lead batteries, spare parts and recyclable elements such as tires and catalytic converters. The bodies are then shredded mechanically, resulting in iron, aluminum and other metal scrap that is sold to scrap dealers, in some cases after undergoing additional processing. Scrap dealers melt down the scrap into recyclable metal. 97 percent of the metal in Germany’s scrap cars is recycled.
The car scrapping process also generates shredding residues that need to be disposed of and that are composed of plastic, rubber, glass, residual metals, and other materials – including pollutants. 436,000 tons of such shredding residues were generated in Germany in 2010, around one third of them (138,500 tons) from car bodies.
Scrap-car recovery rates
The EOL Directive (2000/53/EC) lays down the following reuse rates for scrap cars: 80 percent for reuse and recycling; 85 percent for reuse as a whole. These rates will rise to 85 and 95 percent respectively as of 2015. They are based on waste statistics that the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt) as well as regional-state statistics agencies collect from the relevant companies, in accordance with the Environmental Statistics Act (Umweltstatistikgesetz). Using this data as a basis, the UBA determines the scrap-car recovery rate for Germany and submits the German report in this regard to the European Commission.
Germany has consistently exceeded EU recovery rates in recent years, namely with an 89.2 percent reuse/recycling rate and a 92.9 percent recovery rate in 2008. In the following year, the cash for clunkers program resulted in more than three times the normal amount of cars being scrapped – more than dismantling companies could handle over the course of that year. As a result, in 2009 Germany’s recycling and recovery rates decreased to 82.9 and 86.7 percent respectively, but in the following year rose to nearly 100 percent, for the same reason. In 2010, more scrap cars were recovered than were handed over to dismantling companies, owing to back inventory from the cash for clunkers program. 95.5 percent and an additional 10.7 percent of total scrap weight were reused or recovered for material or energy, respectively.
Proper reuse or recovery of scrap cars directly avoids a direct environmental hazard and allows for recycling. This process is governed by Directive 2000/53/EC, which in 2002 was transposed into German law via adoption of the ELV regulation. This law applies to cars (class M1 vehicles), light utility vehicles (class N1 vehicles) and three-wheel motor vehicles (excluding motor tricycles).
The ELV regulation (a) requires automakers to take back scrap cars free of charge via a comprehensive network; (b) places restrictions on the use of mercury, cadmium, lead and hexavalent chrome in cars; (c) sets recovery rates; and (d) lays down technical requirements for scrap car reuse and recovery. Hence such cars may only be dismantled and scrapped by companies that have ELV regulation certification. The agency known as Gemeinsame Stelle Altfahrzeuge issues a list of all such authorized providers.
High-quality glass and plastic recycling
There is still room for improvement in the recovery rates for shredding residue disposal. To this end, the pros and cons of the two main methods for disposing of scrap cars, namely manual dismantling of recyclable components/materials and post-shredder recycling, need to be taken into account, along with their relative environmental value, particularly when it comes to plastic, glass and recyclable shredding residues. Recycling of plastic and glass elements from scrap cars is altogether feasible, but ultimately hinges on the expense and effort entailed by dismantling and sorting. Ample dismantling and sorting capacity for plastic and glass from scrap cars is available. Under the ELV regulation, glass from scrap cars must be recycled after being removed, and large plastic components must be removed for recycling in cases where materials are not sorted after shredding.
High-quality recycling of shredding residues
Shredding residues can be recycled via mechanical sorting or can be recovered for energy. Shredded parts are used in waste incineration plants, for landfill-site construction, or as gobs (filling material for underground mine stabilization). Scrap-car recovery rates were introduced in January 2006, and since July 2009 the use of high heat value or recoverable materials as landfill has been prohibited. Since the adoption of these laws, the reuse and recovery of shredding residues has increased.
Mechanical shredding residue recovery entails sorting into three different groups of materials: residual metal for recycling; mineral materials (fine aggregate) with a low organic content that can be used as gobs or landfill; and organic materials. Nowadays this process is carried out either in proprietary company facilities or centralized shredding residue processing facilities. An example of such a proprietary facility is that operated by LSH Lübecker Schrotthandel GmbH, which with support from a federal environmental innovation program, built a sorting facility that takes the form of a container. Thanks to the sensors integrated into this facility, it is able to recover most of the recyclable metal from the company’s shredding residues, while at the same time obtaining virtually metal-free shredding residues. Another company, Scholz AG, operates a large shredding residue processing facility that annually can handle up to 100,000 tons of lightweight shredding residues and 120,000 tons of heavy shredding residues. Another example of shredding residue processing is the VW Sicon process, which has yet to be implemented in Germany.
Recycling of automotive electronic components
A subject that looms large for the future is the sorting and recycling of automotive electronic components, of which today’s cars contain increasing numbers; for in order for adjustable seats, electric windows and so forth to work, small, ubiquitous electrical motors are needed. Moreover, today’s cars contain growing numbers of controllers. For example, the VW Golf 2 (1983-1992) had only five such electronic controllers, while the Golf 5 (2003-2008) had 28.
Electric-car recycling is also poised to take on greater importance in the coming years. The quantities of components and materials needed to make these cars far exceed those used in conventional cars. This applies in particular to electric motors, additional power electronics, and bulky traction batteries that weigh upwards of 200 kilograms. The short, medium and long term availability of many of the raw materials used to make these components is anything but certain, particularly for critical materials such as rare earths, gallium, cobalt and lithium. Recycling for most of these critical materials, as well as new lightweight materials such as carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), has been woefully inadequate thus far. Moreover, lithium ion battery dismantling and recycling pose a major environmental problem owing to the highly reactive lithium in these batteries.
Against this backdrop, the administration is funding R&D for the recycling techniques that will be needed going forward, in areas such as electric motors, lithium ion batteries and CFRP.
Used and scrap car exporting
More than a million used cars are exported from Germany each year, most of them to EU countries. In terms of non-EU exports, the lion’s share of such vehicles is shipped to West African nations and former Soviet bloc countries. Some of these cars are in good condition, while others are in relatively poor shape, and it is often difficult to determine whether a given vehicle is usable or is headed for the scrap heap.
In the interest of clarifying this issue, the EU member states adopted Correspondents’ Guidelines No. 9 on Shipments of Waste Vehicles, which though not legally binding is a useful tool for officials tasked with monitoring the export of used and scrap vehicles and who wish to prevent scrap cars that are disguised as used cars from being exported (particularly outside the EU) and improperly disposed of. Improper vehicle dismantling and scrapping can be deleterious to human health and the environment – not to mention the fact that valuable raw materials are lost, instead of being recycled.
Used-car exporting, on the other hand, makes good sense in that vehicle lifetimes are extended; this in turn saves energy and raw materials that would otherwise be used to make new cars. Moreover, affordably priced cars enable people to get around more easily and are a key economic factor in many countries.