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Auto wreckers become recyclers

KW Record – Jan 10, 2007

Opinion & Editorial

To some people, auto-salvage companies are operators of unsightly junk yards, but they should more appropriately be regarded as pioneers of the recycling movement.

An auto-salvage company, at its best, is an environmentally friendly business that is performing a vital service. There simply isn’t space in dumps — now known as landfill sites — to take old cars. And, even if there were room, cars are filled with too many pollutants to allow them to leach into the ground.

The importance of the salvage industry was noted late last year when Rona Ambrose appeared at Logel’s Auto Parts in Kitchener to announce a federal initiative to ensure that toxic mercury switches are removed from cars before they are recycled. Ambrose was the environment minister when she announced the program. The switches activate convenience lights in hoods and trunks. Logel’s has been removing them since it learned of the concern, about six years ago.

As a story in The Record on Monday pointed out, the auto-salvaging business is not well regulated. Neither Ottawa, Queen’s Park nor local governments have clear rules governing the industry. None of these governments have given even licensed salvage companies standards on how auto parts and fluids should be recycled.

There are also some regional bylaws, but the recycling of automobiles is clearly more complex than a region can properly regulate, despite the goodwill of individual inspectors.

Steve Fletcher, executive director of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association, said the federal initiative on mercury switches represents a good start, but he added that other environmental hazards associated with recycling cars require attention. “There are just as many problems with the whole vehicle as there are with that tiny mercury switch,” he said.

How refreshing to have an industry prepared to accept government assistance in setting standards in a field that is clearly in the public interest.

John Logel Sr., owner of Logel’s, has pointed out that there are 25 licensed salvage yards in Waterloo Region, but others operate without a licence. The unlicensed ones are interested in salvaging metals, but they don’t necessarily have the experience or inclination to recycle parts safely.

This is a field in which the federal and provincial governments should work together along with reputable organizations, such as the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association, to set standards for the entire industry. With environmental concerns becoming of greater public interest as each month goes by, there is no reason to delay.