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Ticking the Box

It was supposed to put recycling at the forefront of new car design. It was meant to make scrap yards separate harmful substances and recycle more material from cars that had reached the end of their lives. And it was billed as the solution to Britain’s illegal dumping problem.

Yet five years after the End of Life Vehicle Regulation came into force, the government has no idea if these aims have been realised. That’s because more than half of Britain’s two million scrap cars are going missing, thanks to a loophole in DVLA records and a recycling sector that is poorly policed by the Environment Agency.

According to BERR records, around 685,000 Certificates of Destruction (CoDs) were issued in 2006, the first year in which data was collected. A further 215,000 Notices of Destruction (NODs) were sent to DVLA, meaning 900,000 cars were treated under the new rules.

That means up to 1.1 million cars have vanished from the radar. No one knows how many of these have been dumped complete with tyres, oils and with un-deployed airbags intact.

Government is concerned; car makers and the recycling industries are angry.

Seven years ago, it was a more visible problem. With scrap metal prices in the doldrums, illegal car dumping was at its height. Government estimates put the number of burnt-out and abandoned cars at 340,000 cars every year. The Regulation would end this national eyesore, we were told.

Across Europe similar end-of-life rules were implemented, with the same aims; to deliver a reduction in pollution – cars would have to be 85 per cent recyclable by 2006 – and to send less harmful waste to landfill.

Manufacturers were dragged kicking and screaming into a brave new world of partnership with the scrap sector. It was to be an era in which the polluter paid for recycling their products, not the end user, and where scrap yards would be regulated and licensed. Predictably, car makers warned of a huge cost burden.

Consumers would play their part too. Under continuous licensing principles, only a Certificate of Destruction would end the obligation to pay road tax, forcing owners to licensed treatment facilities where de-pollution and recycling would take place.
That was the theory. Only, the system has proved as watertight as a hole-filled bucket because owners don’t need a CoD.

Alongside, dismantlers, scrap yards and shredders, they can simply de-register their car by ticking a box on the V5 form and returning it to DVLA. Valuable metals like steel and aluminium can then be plundered, without any come-back for them or the last owner.

This anomaly was raised with DVLA in an angry letter by motor trade bodies and the recycling industry as long ago as December 2006. DVLA responded saying that a review was ‘under consideration’. Presumably it still is because in 2008 the tick boxes remain.

Like car makers, dismantlers and shredders are irritated. Scrap car traffic is far lower than they were led to believe and many are struggling to justify the investment to upgrade their facilities. Some share concerns privately held by BERR that the Environment Agency has been unwilling to police an industry it was so anxious to regulate at the turn of the millennium.

Meanwhile scrap prices remain high and the profile of the problem low. Dumped cars are quickly snapped up by those for whom the insatiable appetites of China and India presents an opportunity. Were scrap metal prices to plummet – always a long-term possibility – towns and countryside could once again be blighted with burnt-out cars.

The good news is that completing the end-of-life circle would be easy were DVLA to remove the offending tick box on V5 forms. Customers could be forced to used licensed Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs), driving more traffic and encouraging more dismantlers and shredders to invest in the necessary infrastructure to compete.

There would also be less pollution, more recycling and more accountability to government. Which was surely the point of the legislation in the first place.

Clean Green Cars