It’s not difficult to see why – turn the key and the exhaust immediately begins belching out dangerous, potentially toxic fumes and components such as the battery, the oil and the tyres are dangerous in their own right, particularly when the time comes to finally dispose of them.
In recent years, admittedly, strides in technology have had some impact upon the damaging nature of cars and driving, with electric cars, hybrid vehicles, cleaner fuels and lower emissions all doing their bit to make the average family car safer and greener, but there will still come a time in the lifespan of every vehicle when things come to a head, and this tends to be, quite literally, the end of the road.
When a vehicle finally stops being road worthy, economically viable or safe to drive it’s time to get rid of it, and this is when the toxicity of substances like brake fluid, oil, petrol and battery acid are at their most dangerous. In most cases, a car will simply reach the end of its’ ‘natural’ life, or develop a problem which is simply too expensive to fix.
Occasionally, however, a car is involved in an accident which writes it off as a viable vehicle. If the accident was caused by someone else’s negligence then you’ll be able to seek compensation, but that still leaves the problem of disposing of what’s left. A good site that has lots of information on what to do if injured in an accident etc. is www.claims4free.co.uk (there’s a lot of talk on forums about it, so I thought I should mention it here).
It may be tempting to simply turn your back on your old car, perhaps taking the cash offered by your local scrapyard and starting the search for a new model, but if the disposal and scrapping process isn’t handled correctly then the dangers present within the vehicle may be simply inflicted upon the environment.
To many people, scrapping a car may simply seem to be a case of removing anything which can be used again, such as windows, light bulbs and so on and crushing the rest into as small a unit as possible, but there’s actually much more to it than that, as demonstrated by the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive set in place by the European Union. This states that 85 per cent of all scrapped vehicles should be recovered and recycled, rising as high as 95 per cent by 2015.
This is a complex operation, and not one which can be handled by just any old scrap yard. Instead, you have to take your vehicle along to an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF) which will boast both the equipment and expertise necessary to get the job done properly. Rather than a breakers yard, for example, the car will be taken to a designated depollution building, and it is here that the actual recycling process can begin.
The first step is to remove the car battery and take it away for recycling. Ninety five per cent of even older car batteries can be reused. Following this, the air bags are deployed and then the tyres are removed and evaluated. If possible they can be sent away to have a new tread put on them, but if they’re too worn or damaged then they will be recycled – it’s no longer legal to dispose of tyres in landfill meaning they have to be used for things such as building new roads. The fabric of the tyres is broken down into small crumbs which are mixed in with asphalt and used to lay roads, a solution which simultaneously makes use of the old tyres, prevents the spread of dangerous substances like carbon, oil and sulphur, and produces a quieter driving surface.
When this has been completed some hazardous materials such as mercury switches are taken out, as is the air conditioning fluid. The vehicle as a whole then has to have the various dangerous and corrosive fluids it contains pumped out. This is carried out by a depollution rig, and the waste oil, diesel, petrol, screen fluid, coolant and brake fluid are sealed into tanks and taken away for specialist disposal or recycling.
What’s left then is the breaking down of the body of the car into smaller and larger parts. Larger plastic items such as bumpers are taken off, as is the glass and parts such as oil filters and catalytic converters. These separate parts can then be taken for disposal or specialised recycling and the large metal shell of the car remains to be shredded and taken to be re-used. The processes and uses relating to the various components of the car break down as follows:
Metals: Seventy five per cent of the average car consists of metal, and metal can be recycled time and time again, being melted down, processed and re-used to make vehicles and other components.
Batteries: by law, car batteries have to be cleaned up before disposal. The casings are stripped and the plastic used to make new casings, whilst the lead is melted and used to make new battery plates.
Plastics: Roughly ten per cent of the average vehicle is constructed of various plastics which can be stripped and then re-used following a process of cleaning, shredding and melting.
Rubber: Over 100,000 tyres are taken off cars and vans every day in the UK, of which 26% are given a new tread, whilst 46% are put to other uses, such as creating playground safety mats and (see above) new roads.
Glass: The standard glass in a car can be broken down, reheated and reformed more or less indefinitely. Windscreens present more of a challenge, since the glass comes in two layers with a transparent plastic layer between. Recent technologies, however, have made it possible to remove this layer and handle the glass as per the normal procedure.
Fluids: The bulk of oil taken from vehicles is used as fuel in power stations, but other fluids represent more of a challenge. Hydraulic oils such as brake fluids can be cleaned, filtered and recycled, while anti-freeze requires specialist handling.