Scrapping Cars in the UK

Two million vehicles each year come to the end of their useful lives in the UK.  At an average weight of around 2500kg, that’s five million tonnes of waste a year from old cars alone. Or rather it would be, if the End of Life Vehicle Directive had not come into force from 2004 onwards.  This law (known as the ELV law) stipulates targets for reusing and recycling old cars, motorcycles and light commercial vehicles – with those targets rising to 95% of a car having to be reused or recovered and 85% reused or recycled by 2015.

This law is creating plenty of opportunities for those interested in the scrap car business. A car at the end of its life (which is known as an ELV) needs to be taken to an Authorised Treatment Facility for disposal. An ATF has to be fully compliant with regulations and anyone setting one up needs a permit from the Environment Agency. This is primarily to ensure that hazardous materials, such as oils and batteries, are dealt with and stored appropriately.

The last owner of the car will receive a Certificate of Destruction from the ATF to prove that the vehicle is no longer used. The ATF will then begin removing hazardous materials from the car – or “depolluting” the car as it is often called in official and trade documents.

This involves taking out and storing all fluids, the battery, the wheels, the catalytic converter and anything with mercury. It also includes anything that could be explosive, such as airbags. Catalytic converters, which contain several rare earth metals, are particularly valuable.

For the ATF owner, the fluids may be re-useable or may be suitable for resale. If not, they have to be disposed of carefully, following Environment Agency regulations.

The ATF owner won’t usually be the same person as the actual scrap merchant who will take the depolluted car at the end of the process. The car’s structure is then taken apart and reused as appropriate. Particularly useful or in demand are ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals (which make up around 75% of the average car) and rubber (which can be recycled in various ways). The ATF owner will receive payment for the ELV and for any other materials they are able to sell on themselves.

This sophisticated and professional process has helped the UK come very close to its targets for the recycling of cars: by 2009, the recycling, reuse and recovery of ELVs was 84.69%. That’s missing the target of 85%, but only just! As this rises to 95% by 2015, the opportunities for business will only increase. This is because part of the ELV directive states that car manufacturers have to use fewer materials such as PVC that are difficult to recycle or reuse. As time passes, cars will become easier to depollute and scrap.

ELVs are a growing market in which a company can make money specifically through being environmentally responsible. That’s got to be good news for everyone involved in the scrap car industry, as well as for the environment.