Circular economy

Car recycling at no cost? We can, but only with definite rules

Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian

Interview with Alfonso Gifuni, the president of CAR: car wreckers and car producers to work together towards the goal of zero waste.

Forget the old stereotype of a rough worker, with oil on his hands, hammering and crushing rusty old car wrecks. A car wrecker, today, is a modern professional figure, a pioneer in the protection of the environment, equipped with the most advanced technologies, who can turn your old car into useful resources, giving life to new products. Both the economy and the ecosystem greatly benefit from this, proudly affirms Alfonso Gifuni, the president of CAR, the Confederation of United Car Wreckers (“Confederazione Autodemolitori Riuniti”). CAR is the national representative of all operators in the field of salvaging and disposal of end-of-life vehicles.

The car wrecker is the central figure of the disposal process, the other parts of the process are complementary. It is the car wrecker who takes care of working safety, recovery, administrative management of the vehicle and disassembly of the parts. He does so with a highly technological plant equipped with very complex an specific authorisations.”

A car is a complex product, full of extremely diverse components: how much of it can be recycled?

“When dismantling a vehicle, we strictly follow the three-R principle: reuse, recovery and recycling. The reuse consists in reusing the spare parts as they are, without any energy waste and any environmental impact. The next steps are the recovery and recycling of raw materials, for example plastic and metallic elements that were used to produce the car and can now serve as raw materials for new products. The goal for vehicle recovery has gone up from 70% to 85%, and is expected to reach 95%, according to the European norms. This means that only 5% of the vehicle will eventually end up in a landfill, in the form of fluff, after undergoing the crushing process.”

What can be salvaged?

“Quite a lot. There are many parts that used to be crushed together with the car, but must be recycled today: for example, plastic parts such as bumpers, tires, windows, and other components such as seats, dashboards, and carpets. What we do with our vehicles is basically waste sorting.”

Is there something impossible to recycle?

“Yes, at least for now. There is this residual 5% that the law allows to just dump in the landfill. This includes all the adhesives, the paints, the insulators. These remaining parts are just crushed, they can’t be transformed into any raw material as of now. Sometimes we have problems with other components as well, like the dashboards: in old cars, this part was not designed to be recycled, so it was made up of many pieces, and many different kinds of plastic that were extremely hard to separate. However, about 5-10 years ago cars started to be designed with a new kind of dashboard, a single plastic piece that is really easy to salvage once it’s emptied.”

So in order to recycle well, you also need the help of the producers?

“Exactly. Producers need to approach production with a new philosophy. When you build the single parts, you have to imagine the vehicle as a potential source of new raw materials. Components need to become easy to extract and disassemble.”

Are producers collaborative with respect to this?

“The situation has improved over the past 10 years, but we’ve had some difficult moments. It’s basically an economic issue: the EU applies the principle “who pollutes pays”, basing on the concept of broad responsibility of the producers. So now producers have to bear the costs for the disposal of the goods they produce. Some producers wish there were no costs at all. As a matter of fact, zero cost is a goal we could achieve, but surely not by taking shortcuts.”

How is that possible?

The disposal chain could be self-sufficient, but there are two obstacles to that. First of all, the market of scrap metal has collapsed, also because of the unfair competition of China’s low cost lead billets: prices have dropped from 150 Euro per ton to 50 Euro per ton. We’re not asking for the introduction of import duties, but we want the same rules to apply to everybody: it is true that these rules increase the costs, but they also allow us to protect the environment. The second problem is that many vehicles end up being exported abroad with a borderline procedure. We as CAR have set out to fight these problems.

Is there more?

“Yes, in addition to market issues, our sector suffers from the lack of respect for the rules by the rest of the production chain. The professional figure of the car wrecker was regulated in 1998 with the Ronchi Decree, whereas a regulation of the relationships among operators in the production chain is still missing. There are some producers who have created their own business networks, the access to which is regulated by norms that nobody knows: we have filed a lawsuit to the Antitrust authorities about that. Steel mills often come to technical meetings thinking they can just take the whole vehicle as it is. Car dealers cannibalize the end-of-life vehicles they manage to get before giving them to car wreckers. As I said, if we didn’t have these obstacles, we’d be self sufficient, and car producers wouldn’t have to pay any contribution.”

You recently attended the important Greencar convention in Trieste, and now you are going to be in Rimini for Ecomondo. Both these initiatives are meant to promote the dialogue with companies and institutions. What can these diverse actors do to make your sector a protagonist in the transition towards the circular economy?

“Our sector is already well on its way towards this goal. What we really need is the government to define with certainty the existing norms, which are quite well made, because if norms are well defined, then disturbing interferences are cut out, and the disposal chain can function at its best.”

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