UK Government could face dumped-vehicle embarrassment

The UK Government is in danger of repeating its ongoing embarrassment over waste fridge mountains, this time with end-of-live vehicles, according a policy research group. The Department of Trade and Industry denies that this will be the case.

The Institute for European Environmental Policy, based in London and Brussels, states that one of its long-standing concerns is the effective implementation of European policy. The organisation notes that with regard to the End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Directive, member states had until 21 April last year to transpose the directive into national law. In common with many other nations, the UK is running late, still considering how best to implement some aspects of the legislation.

Last June a Government spokesman reassured edie that the chaos that emerged when European legislation on disposal of waste fridges came into effect (see related story), would not occur with scrapped cars, nor with electronic waste, which will be subject to similar legislation over the next couple of years (see related story).

The IEEP disagrees with this analysis.

According to the legislation, the use of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium in vehicles will be banned from July this year; by January 2006 at least 85% by weight of all ELVs is to be reused or recovered; and by 2015, at least 95% by weight should be reused or recovered.

The costs of the legislation will be met by manufacturers for new cars sold after 1 July last year, and for all other vehicles from 2007.

In the meantime, the UK Government has decided that the cost of recovery of materials from older vehicles will have to be met by their last owners. However, this decision has important social and environmental consequences, says the IEEP.

The organisation criticises the Government’s Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) for providing little comment on the impact of costs to low-income car owners – those most likely to own ELVs. This is compared to the RIA’s detailed consideration of costs to the motor industry.

According to the IEEP, a third of all cars over 10 years old – and therefore most likely to be scrapped – are owned by the least wealthy fifth of the population. This group is also most likely to be tempted to dump their cars when they reach the end of their lives, rather than pay to have them scrapped.

In some areas of the country, particularly in the South, car owners are already facing costs for removal of their ELVs. The situation will get worse, irrespective of the ELV directive, says the IEEP, because of the landfill tax and restrictions on landfilling waste tyres (see related story). Charges could reach £100 in some areas, says the IEEP.

Currently, local authority estimates suggest that up to 350,000 cars are dumped every year, representing one-sixth of all ELVs in the UK – although there are more conservative estimates. According to the Government’s RIA, the directive will result in an additional 147,000 cars being abandoned, but the IEEP says that there are uncertainties in this estimate, fearing that the true figure may be much higher.

Criticisms of the RIA’s estimates include the perceived risk by owners of illegally dumped cars that they will be traced and punished. The RIA presumes that owners perceive this risk to be high, persuading them not to dump their cars. However, the risk is actually negligible, according to government sources, and should it receive the same press attention given to dumped fridges, public perception of the risk could change rapidly, says IEEP.

Instead of taking the Government’s chosen route, the IEEP suggests moving the charge to car drivers as a whole, by increasing vehicle excise duty by approximately 4% across the board, £5 on average. This would pay for the entire ELV recycling scheme and remove the need for charges to final owners of cars.

However, a Department of Trade and Industry spokesman was critical of this suggestion, noting that it would produce a new logistical problem of who would administer the fund. There would also be no incentive for companies that scrap cars to reduce their costs, he said.

“We’ve chose the end user route purely because we think the market can look after itself,” the spokesman told edie. When people buy old cars with just a few years of life left in them they will be aware that a charge will be incurred when it is scrapped. The purchaser will then demand to pay a lower price for the vehicle, he explained.

The Government will also introduce a new system of continuous registration for cars, possibly this summer, which will require a vehicle’s previous owner to hold either proof of sale, or a certificate of destruction, allowing car ownership to be traced, the spokesman said.

He denied that that there may be a few years following implementation in which dumped vehicles become a problem similar to that with fridges. Firstly, the fridge disposal legislation was a ‘regulation’ and not a ‘directive’, giving authorities less time to prepare. Cars are also relatively simple to dismantle, consisting only of break fluid, rubber and metal. “It’s a lot more complicated with a fridge,” he said.

There was also no industry for fridge dismantling in place prior to the legislation. In fact, some councils did very well out of the legislation as they were prepared in advance and were able to take on fridge disposal from other regions, the spokesman said. Conversely, for vehicles, there is already a well established scrap metal industry, he said.

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