The car is one of the symbols of the modern age and therefore also becomes a symbol of the environmental crisis faced by modern cities. For this reason environmentalists and public opinion have often focused on the environmental impact of the car, as an indicator of the impact of the whole socioeconomic system in western countries. Stricter environmental legislation, rising landfill prices and the public demand for environmentally improved products have forced growing attention on the recovery and recycling of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).
At present, 10 million cars are scrapped in Europe each year, but only 80 per cent find their way into official or organized recycling centers, with the remaining 20 per cent being illegally dumped and abandoned. As a result, one of the main objectives of EPR regulations is to encourage a more standardized approach for the recovery and processing of ELVs. The turnover of cars is increasing, especially in countries like Japan, where the average life of a car is between four and seven years. Some governments are encouraging the replacement of old cars with new ones as a way of maintaining more fuel-efficient and less polluting fleets.
Approaching the implementation of EPR from a collective perspective is gaining momentum around the world as companies with specific product sectors consider the overall advantages of working in a cooperative manner. While Fiat, BMW, Renault and Rover commenced their recycling programs independently and in different European countries, in recent years they have combined efforts so that individual companies could ensure an efficient and effective recycling service for their ELVs across several European countries. This consortium approach to EPR represents yet another model by which companies are implementing an environmental program beyond the point of sale and warranties. The economies of scale associated with partnering increased the viability of recovering and recycling ELVs across national boundaries when operating in isolation might not prove possible, either commercially, logistically or culturally.
The consortium approach commenced with the development of agreements with car dismantlers, in order to operate a selective dismantling of end-of-life cars. Therefore the quantity of materials extracted from an ELV, and their quality, have to be measured on the basis of time and work needed to extract them. For this reason car manufacturers have set up pilot disassembly centers to study disassembly methods and provide dismantlers not only with encouragement but also with detailed information and knowledge about effective and efficient techniques. The producer's responsibility does not cease with simply collecting and dismantling ELVs. The original car manufacturers also collect materials and readdress them to their own production plants or to other companies which will treat them and re-use them as a raw material for bottles, carpets and so on. In their manufacturing facilities, companies use secondary plastics for parts with lower performance requirements. For example, Fiat re-uses plastics from bumpers for producing air ducts and other (often hidden) interior components in new models.
The establishment of pilot disassembly plants has been a vital first step in forming the consortium. The know-how acquired through these plants is then transmitted to key stakeholders such as dismantlers and vehicle designers, all of which streamlines the disassembly and recycling process. Thus the role of EPR in the car sector is to seek to influence directly new vehicle design.
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