Revving Up Recycling: Our expectations for the future of end-of-life vehicle treatment in Europe

24 Mar 2023

By Patrik Ragnarsson, Director Mobility & Strategic Projects & Benedetta Nucci, Senior Manager Mobility & Life Cycle Assessment

Aluminium has become an essential material for building safe, lightweight, and energy-efficient vehicles. As a result, the use of aluminium in vehicles has risen continuously, with the average car produced in Europe in 2019 containing 180 kg of aluminium. The growing use of aluminium in vehicles has also increased the aluminium content in End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs). To optimise the recycling of our valuable metal, it is crucial to revise the End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive. That’s why we’re pleased that the European Commission is making progress in the review of the ELV Directive before the end of its mandate. We eagerly anticipate the proposal’s publication as part of the Greening Transport Package, planned for 23 June 2023.

The revision of the ELV Directive is one of the pillars of the European Green Deal thanks to the potential positive contribution that it could bring in terms of:

  • Enhancing the circularity aspects in the design of new vehicles sold on the European market, promoting the use of recycled materials and reducing waste.
  • Improving the accuracy of statistics related to the number of vehicles reaching the end-of-life stage in the EU, enabling more effective monitoring.
  • Widening the scope of the Directive to include vehicles that are currently not targeted
  • Improving the provisions for recycling ELVs in Europe, including an additional provision to increase the dismantling of components for reuse and recycling.
  • Tackling the issue of ELVs of “unknown whereabouts,” providing a framework to track and manage these vehicles, and ensuring that they are recycled or disposed of safely.

On top of that, the revision of the ELV Directive will play a pivotal role in securing the availability of strategic raw materials in Europe. Vehicles are real “mines on wheels” that Europe could and should exploit to gain access to an incredible amount and variety of raw materials, including aluminium. This will only be achieved by establishing the right framework conditions, and the revision of the ELV Directive is an important step in this direction.

The current Directive has been very effective in the past. However, after more than two decades, it has become outdated and unfit to deal with the current challenges faced by the automotive industry that have emerged since the introduction of new materials, components, and powertrains. We must revise and modernise the Directive to keep pace with the ever-evolving technological landscape and promote sustainability in the industry.

Firstly, the current unaccounted 4.5 million ELVs per year represents a missed opportunity for aluminium recycling in Europe. Assuming an average aluminium content of 75 kg per vehicle amounts to over 300 kilotonnes of aluminium that could be recycled in Europe instead of elsewhere. The new ELV Directive should address this issue by introducing measures to improve accountability and increase the recycling of aluminium from ELVs.

Secondly, the growing aluminium content in vehicles highlights the importance of optimising recycling at the end of life. This means that it is becoming more and more important to optimise recycling at the end of life. The revision of the ELV Directive should include several policy options to improve both the quality and the quantity of aluminium recycling.

Thirdly, a lack of knowledge about the materials in ELVs poses a significant barrier to investments in recycling companies. Providing better information about the composition of different parts of an ELV would enable recycling companies to make safer investment decisions in sorting equipment and processes for dismantling.

Lastly, to achieve the new and ambitious recycling targets in the future, aluminium recycling companies need to invest in new sorting and dismantling equipment. Any delay in the introduction of new legislation may lead to uncertainty in investment decisions, potentially stalling the deployment of new recycling technologies. Why invest today if we don’t know what the legislation will ask for tomorrow?

In conclusion, the long-overdue revision of the ELV Directive is critical for the aluminium industry and European society as a whole. With strategic decisions being made by companies amidst a rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape, there is no time to delay any further. Failure to act now would have far-reaching consequences for our industry, environment, and economy.

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