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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Scrapheap challenge: keeping track of the missing Irish cars

Tens of thousands of obsolete vehicles go unaccounted for each year, lost in a network of unauthorised scrapyards. It’s bad for the environment and bad for unsuspecting car owners

The authorised treatment facility is a place where cars come to die, and as such it isn’t the prettiest place. Vehicles at various stages of recycling dot the yard: some recent arrivals are mainly intact; others are at the end of the process and are literally shells of their former selves. But while this car graveyard may not be aesthetically pleasing, at least it is green on the inside.

The owner of Greener Metal Recycling, John Dockrell, gives me a tour pointing out the impenetrable surfaces to stop seepage; the rainwater collection tanks that contain all of the water used on site; the checklists of all the pollutants, including fuel, oil and brake fluid, that have to be removed from each vehicle. Anything that can be reused on site is reused, while a pool containing microbes disposes of any waste fluids that cannot be recycled.

Dockrell describes the set-up costs as “astronomical” and there is a continual investment in keeping the facility at the highest standard. However, the company is struggling due to a shortage of vehicles coming through the facility. He says that last year about 6,000 cars should have come through the facility, based on the estimated number of end-of-life vehicles in the Fingal area. Only 906 came through. The problem, Dockrell says, are the unlicensed operators taking business from his company.

The manager of the company, Paul Devlin, says illegal operations are hurting authorised sites across the country. “Cars are going to scrapyards that are not authorised treatment facilities and they are not treating them as end-of-life vehicles – they’re just treating them as scrap metal. They’re taking them in, not depolluting them and ripping the engine out,” he says.

Greener Metal Recycling is battling on a number of fronts. The first problem is the high value of some of the elements contained in the vehicles. Illegal operators will go to some lengths to get their hands on cars and will pay owners to take vehicles off their hands, something authorised facilities cannot do. It has also lost business from its website,, to an unauthorised facility operating under another web address.

Another contributing factor is a lack of public awareness on the issue. People do not realise it is now their responsibility to dispose of the vehicle in an authorised treatment facility. That facility should issue a certificate of destruction, necessary for the Vehicle Registration Unit in Shannon to deregister the vehicle. Some owners have discovered to their detriment that it is a false economy placing their trust in illegal operators who are capitalising on this lack of knowledge.

Patrick Browne from Cavan went about getting two old cars scrapped. “I called a company which on the face of it seemed to be legitimate,” he says. “The agreement was that within a few days I would get a certificate of destruction sent out in the post. It never came, but what did come was a parking fine from Drogheda for €40.”

Thus began a red-tape nightmare. Browne first went to Louth County Council who told him the vehicle was still registered in his name. He then spoke to the Garda Síochána, which said not much could be done despite his fears that either car could be involved in a hit-and-run and that the vehicle would be traced back to him.

Browne eventually contacted the Department of Transport and was told to secure an affidavit from a solicitor, which he then had to send on to the authorities in Shannon before he could eventually be cleared of the parking fine. He later found out both cars were still on the road.

Similarly it took Nigerian Charles Omoregbee six months to deregister his car having unwittingly passed it on to an illegal operator. He first became aware there was a problem when he received two M50 tolls on the supposedly scrapped vehicle. Omoregbee says he sought the advice of his local council beforehand but that they didn’t know the correct procedure. It should be made more public so people know how to do the right thing,” he says.

There are huge environmental costs involved in not appropriately dealing with end-of-life vehicles. James Nix, co-ordinator of Plan Better, a joint initiative of An Taisce, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Irish Environment, and Feasta, says the consequences for human health and the environment are severe. “Used engine oil is highly contaminated,” he says. “If it leaks into soil . . . it will find its way to ground-water. Toxic chemicals – arsenic, lead, cadmium, zinc, barium and chromium – all leach out.”

Much like illegal quarries and the stockpiling of waste tyres, says Nix, “not enough is being done by the local authorities to combat illegal sites. Unlawful dismantling yards are supposed to be put out of business by the enforcement of planning legislation. But sadly, enforcement is largely dysfunctional in many counties,” he says, adding that if complaints made to environmental organisations are representative, effective enforcement is lacking right across the country.

Regulations surrounding end-of-life vehicles came into Irish law in June 2006 following a European directive in 2000. This required member states to increase the proper reuse and recovery of all end-of-life vehicles to 85 per cent by the year 2006 (this rises to 95 per cent in 2015).

However, it would appear that these targets are not being reached. In 2008, the last year for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could provide statistics, only 11.5 per cent of the estimated 127,612 cars that came off the road could be accounted for through certificates of destruction. By this measure, nearly 113,000 cars were unaccounted for in 2008.

However a spokeswoman for the environmental agency disputes this, and points to an 82 per cent recovery rate in the EPA’s report on 2008. “There are strict rules as to when a certificate of destruction can be issued, and therefore certificates are not issued every time a vehicle is brought to an authorised treatment facility. Therefore the number of certificates issued in Ireland (and in other member states) is lower than the number of end-of-life vehicles brought to authorised treatment facilities,” she says, adding that the agency also surveys shredders to reach that recovery rate.

But Paul Devlin of Greener Metal Recycling disputes the EPA’s figures: “The simple fact of the matter is you cannot know for certain that a car has gone through an authorised treatment facility unless a certificate has been issued. It’s the lynchpin of the whole system.”

While the EPA collates information regarding end-of-life vehicles for inclusion in its end of year report, the spokeswoman says city and county councils are “the frontline enforcement authorities” for these regulations.

The European Commission has received a complaint that Irish local authorities are not ensuring a level playing field between authorised and unauthorised facilities for end-of-life vehicles. “In particular, it was claimed that local authorities were not, in practice, taking any effective enforcement action against unauthorised facilities handling end-of-life vehicles,” the commission says.

Ireland has a previous 2005 European Court of Justice ruling that found it had “systematically failed to ensure respect for requirements of the Framework Waste Directive obliging waste facilities to operate under a waste permit”.

The spokeswoman says the commission is not satisfied that the judgment of the European Court of Justice has yet been fully implemented by the Irish authorities, adding that the commission has “not yet” asked for any penalty. But, she says, if necessary actions are not taken, the commission may take Ireland back to court and request financial penalties.

Cork County Council has been proactive in its handling of scrapyards. When legislation surrounding end-of-life vehicles came into law in 2006 the local authority initiated a project to counter unauthorised end-of-life vehicle sites in the area.

Through aerial surveillance the council identified 167 unauthorised sites operating in the local authority area, each of which received correspondence from Cork County Council advising them they needed to regularise their activities or cease operations. Follow-up inspections resulted in the closure of 159 of those sites; the council aims for the remaining eight sites to be regulated by the end of this year, allowing responsible operators to properly carry out their duties.

However, according to John Dockrell, until all local authorities step up their efforts to deal with illegal operators, authorised treatment facilities will continue to suffer. “We are being punished for doing things right,” he says. All we want is a level playing field, but until the authorities take this nettle and grasp it properly it’s not going to get sorted out.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Junkyards: the unsung heroes of the auto industry

The first big breath of fresh air that our environment has seen in a long time is the collapse of the auto industry. What a blessing in disguise. So swings the pendulum of evolution. Perhaps it has struck a loud, long-lasting, clear-sounding gong to which we all should be listening.

The unsung heroes on the tail of this industry have long been overlooked, criticized and looked down on as unsightly junkyards blemishing our countryside. And I’m talking, folks, about those unappreciated, well-educated in their field, far-seeing folks who are known as those in the auto recycling business. Where end-of-life vehicles are retired with environmentally friendly dignity. Where quality used parts and scrap metal are sorted, cleaned and put back into the circle of use and reuse. Where environmentally unfriendly substances are carefully collected and disposed of in a proper, sustainable manner.

By fate, fame, fortune or divine guidance, I recently had the opportunity of casually touring one of these local facilities, Fergus Auto Recyclers, 6252 County Road #29, just east of Fergus, and believe me, did I have my eyes opened wide. I was not growled at by the imaged glare of a lip- curled, snarling, white-fangs flashing junkyard dog. I did not see huge, randomly thrown piles of unsorted, paint-peeling, rusting debris. I did not see gasoline, anti-freeze and oil spills. I did not smell the stench of the dead and the dying. Nor was there the smell of mildew, rot or mould. What I saw was a well-fenced clean and tidy yard, circled by a healthy, multi-species, wetland tree population.

What I saw was containers for carefully collected anti-freeze from the radiators, oil from the crankcases, Freon from the air conditioners and fluid from the brakes. I saw that gasoline, sucked by compressed air vacuums, cleaned by filtering, and filtered once again to be used in their own vehicles.

And most important of all, I saw a small jug-sized container where collected within were the tiny units of mercury. Those are from the mercury light switches that conveniently turn on the little light when you lift both the hood and trunk lid. One of these units, small as it is, the size of a baby’s fingertip, if improperly disposed of, is quite capable of killing, by pollution, all the fish, turtles, frogs and aquatic life in a lake of 20-acre capacity.

What I also saw were neatly rowed piggybacked, stripped-down auto bodies, waiting to be crushed there on the site to fit into transportable containers, ready to be recycled in the molten cupolas of the giant steel mills.

Our sleepy-eyed, short-sighted political parties – federal, provincial and municipal – in the language of gardeners, have long been leaning, as they too often are, on the wrong end of the shovel. The industry that should have subsidies directed to, or in the lingo that excites the media, bailed out, in these times of receding economy, is not the excessive dollar-hungry mongers, legal thieves of the auto industries, where repair was unheard of and replace was the norm. Where need was forgotten and overpriced luxury, exhorting excessive speed, was foisted on the brainwashed public by easy credit, encouraging without fail, the fatal, stranglehold of deficit purchasing.

Where assistance should be directed, if politicians should so wake to reality, with the possible forethought of passing a sustainable world on to our grandchildren and their children’s children, is to the so-called scrap yards that have been struggling for years to keep a foothold in a down-trodden industry that favours our environment greatly. Through no fault of their own, they have received little or no favourable recognition and certainly little in well-earned, government-regulated assistance.

Today’s recyclers provide low-cost, high-quality used parts in a way that benefits the consumer, the industry, and our earth. In so doing, they help reduce insurance rates, vehicle repair bills and staggering amounts of pollution.

Should they not be given a much fairer shake?

by Barrie Hopkins, The Wellington Advertiser

Friday, April 08, 2011

Recycle your old car the right way

New rules to keep the environment a top priority when recycling end-of-life vehicles.

The Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association is doing more than paying lip service to their commitment to recycle end-of-life vehicles properly. As of January 2011, they adopted the National Code of Practice for Auto Recyclers as a condition of membership for all of its Direct Members - both existing and new.

Steve Fletcher, the association’s Executive Director explained the evolution of the new policy. “This code was developed by the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) for Environment Canada to support the National “Retire Your Ride” scrappage program. It includes some stringent compliance requirements for a recycling operation to properly and legally process a vehicle in Ontario. For the past few years, our association has been working toward a standardized certification process that objectively measures both the facilities and the processes used by our members. We wanted to have the confidence to stand up and publicly state that all of our members do things the right way. Now we have that.”

OARA and ARC retained an independent auditor to physically visit each member and evaluate their business against the standardized protocol. Any potential shortcomings were rectified and confirmed by the auditor before a recycler was certified.

So, as a vehicle owner, why should you care whether a recycler is certified? Fletcher explains. “Unfortunately, not everybody processes end-of-life vehicles the way OARA members do. There are some scrap operators out there who buy cars just to crush them and sell them for the value of the metal. They leave toxic fluids and heavy metals to just escape into the soil and groundwater. Ozone depleting substances are released into the atmosphere. They don’t recycle any usable parts and don’t care about the damage they’re doing to the environment. It can be a real nightmare. It’s almost impossible for the average vehicle owner to figure out who the responsible recyclers are and who they should avoid selling their cars to. When they see the Certified Ontario Auto Recycler seal, they know that operator has been thoroughly checked out. They know they’re dealing with one of the good guys.”

Every vehicle that a Certified OARA member handles goes through a methodical process to maximize reclamation and minimize environmental impact. Good reusable parts, batteries, mercury switches, oils, fluids, coolants, gasoline, and refrigerants are all removed and properly managed before the remaining hulk is sent for metal recycling.

OARA is working with progressive manufacturers and the government to ensure all vehicles in the province are handled according to the National Code of Practice. In the meantime, when you’re done with your vehicle be aware of who you’re selling it to. It can make all the difference in the world.