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Recycling and Reuse: End-of-Life Vehicles and Producer Responsibility

November 2008

The European Union’s End of Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive (2000/53/EC) Exit EPA Disclaimer to promote recycling and provide incentives for environmentally-friendly vehicle design represents an early application by the European Union (EU) of extended producer responsibility (EPR) principles for the sustainable life cycle management of products.

Important generic elements of EPR include:

A major impetus for EPR in Europe has been the shortages of landfill capacity for waste disposal. By encouraging source reduction and recycling, EPR also can reduce energy and materials consumption and reduce toxicity in products. This fact sheet briefly describes the EU ELV Directive and provides examples of related policies for ELVs in Europe and elsewhere. The fact sheet is not comprehensive; rather, it provides a starting point for readers interested in investigating the topic.

European Union End-of-Life Vehicles Directive

Summary of the Directive

End-of-life vehicles generate an estimated eight to nine million tons of waste annually in the European Community (EC). The ELV Directive, the first product of the European Commission’s priority waste streams program, seeks to prevent pollution and make vehicle dismantling and recycling more environmentally-friendly. Under the Directive, manufacturers must endeavor to reduce the use of hazardous substances when designing and producing vehicles and ensure that most components of vehicles placed on the market after July 1, 2003, do not contain mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, or lead. The ELV Directive emphasizes the importance of increasing the use of recycled materials in vehicle manufacture. In order to identify vehicle components and materials suitable for reuse and recovery and handle these materials safely, the ELV Directive requires that producers use International Organization for Standards (ISO) guidelines for the labeling and identification of vehicle components.

The ELV Directive includes provisions for the collection of end-of-life vehicles and establishes deadlines for material recovery rates. Producers must meet all, or a significant proportion, of costs for collection and recovery measures. EU Member States are required to establish collection systems for end-of-life vehicles and ensure that all vehicles are transferred to authorized treatment facilities through a system of vehicle deregistration based on a certificate of destruction. The last holder of an end-of-life vehicle may dispose of it free of charge ("free take-back"). Vehicle dismantlers must obtain permits to handle ELVs. Under Annex I of the Directive, storage and treatment of end-of-life vehicles are strictly controlled through de-pollution procedures and designated parts removal requirements – also see Directive 2006/12/EC Exit EPA Disclaimer. Vehicle manufacturers are obligated to compile specific data and report regularly to designated authorities. Member States are required to report to the European Commission on ELV Directive implementation every three years.

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Implementation of the Directive

Although the ELV Directive requires that most of its provisions be transposed into domestic law across the EU by April, 21, 2002, a March 2007 study commissioned by the European Parliament Exit EPA Disclaimer found that only the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Austria have made substantial progress on ELV implementation. According to the study, complex administrative requirements and reluctance by some Member States to impose additional costs on automakers are among the barriers to implementation. The study cites other difficulties, including: export of used vehicles to countries outside the EU with less stringent disposal laws; the presence of "rogue traders" who buy old vehicles and re-sell scrap metal or other parts without complying with environmental standards; and a general lack of public awareness about the requirements.

Although consumer preference and energy efficiency historically have been more influential factors than life-cycle management of materials in influencing European automobile industry research and development, carmakers increasingly are using design for recycling principles in vehicle manufacturing. The ELV Directive requirements to remove toxic and hazardous substances from vehicles have resulted in international efforts to eliminate their use in vehicle manufacturing. With respect to recycling, the greatest opportunities for increased recovery rates necessary to meet ELV 2015 materials recovery targets may involve polymers, rubber, glass, and electronic components of vehicles. To reach these targets, roughly half of such materials will need to be recoverable. Plastics, which comprise the largest proportion of currently non-recycled materials in vehicles, are a logical focus of research and development efforts directed toward vehicle recycling.

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Country Initiatives


By 2000, ten European countries (Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) had taken steps to address concerns related to end-of life-vehicles. For example:

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Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources

There is no federal law governing EPR in the United States. The often-preferred term used in the U.S. for practices related to EPR is "product stewardship" – which calls upon all parties involved a product’s life cycle (i.e., producers, manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers) to share responsibility for reducing the product’s impacts on the environment. The focus of most product stewardship programs related to vehicles at the national level in the US has been on voluntary measures to address contaminants of particular concern or to further specific recycling goals.

Although less emphasis has been placed by government in the U.S. on sustainable vehicle design and production than on recycling, life cycle analysis increasingly is an important part of the way US manufacturers develop vehicles. The automobile industry’s Vehicle Recycling Partnership, Exit EPA Disclaimer formed in 1992 by Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, is charged with collaborative research and pilot programs to promote integrated and sustainable vehicle recycling practices in North America and globally. A 2006 General Motors corporate responsibility report (PDF) (20 pp, 492K, About PDF) Exit EPA Disclaimer provides an example of the way life cycle analysis can support sustainability and ELV goals in vehicle design and manufacturing. Ford has teamed with auto manufacturers in Europe and Japan to establish the International Materials Data System, Exit EPA Disclaimer which facilitates reuse and recycling through shared information on materials in vehicles.

A number of States have taken specific actions to prevent pollution associated with mercury in vehicles scrap tires, and lead-acid batteries. The laws for mercury in vehicles include:

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Forty-eight States have laws on the management of scrap tires. Battery Council International has published a summery of State laws for lead-acid batteries Exit EPA Disclaimer and provides links for many of these laws. Exit EPA Disclaimer

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