• Toronto Star Sept 2, 2011: Why you should care about the fate of your old car

    Submitted On February 27th, 2012

    Rules badly needed for neglected auto recycling

    Will the fate of defunct cars influence your vote in the Oct. 6 Ontario election?

    What! You haven’t even thought about it? Perhaps you should.

    After all, an estimated 550,000 vehicles are scrapped here every year. The business generally goes unnoticed.

    Its problems would be relatively easy to fix, says the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association, which represents one-third of Ontario’s car scrappers and wants whatever party that wins the election to commit to cleaning up this neglected industry.

    Scrappers can make up to $300 per vehicle selling the useful parts or the steel, aluminum and other metals the junkers contain. That’s why 94 per cent are recycled.

    Each car also contains, on average, 40 litres of gasoline, oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze and other liquids, as well as mercury, lead and other materials — most of them toxic. Some can also be reused or recycled; others must be disposed of. But all must be handled carefully.

    When “end of life vehicles,” or ELVs, are processed well, the association says, 83 per cent of each vehicle, by weight, is reused or recycled.

    The association’s 130 member companies must follow a code devised by a national group, the Automotive Recyclers of Canada, which was based on Environment Canada’s rules for the old Retire Your Ride scrappage program. It requires the nasty stuff to be drained or removed and handled like the hazardous waste it is, before the rest of the car is crushed and shredded. But association membership is voluntary, and the province’s 370 or so non-members are free to ignore it. While some treat the wastes properly, others “cut corners” and aren’t often caught.

    The province doesn’t keep track of ELVs and exempts scrappers from the Environmental Protection Act provision that requires a Certificate of Approval for waste-disposal sites.

    As for other provincial and federal anti-pollution rules, “some aspects of ELV handling are not regulated at all and where regulations do exist, enforcement is lacking,” the association says.

    The result: Toxic materials become pollutants rather than resources. They soak into the ground or get emitted into the air. Some poison underground water, or lakes and rivers; others damage the earth’s protective high-level ozone layer or can cause respiratory diseases or cancer in humans.

    “The release of 15 million litres of substances of concern in a single incident would likely generate headlines across the province,” the association says. “However, many small, daily releases . . . are happening across Ontario and this can be just as damaging to the environment.”

    The group’s solution — supported by domestic and offshore carmakers — is a non-profit body to oversee all recyclers, who would be bound by the national code. Participation would be mandatory, and the companies, not carmakers or consumers, would pay — perhaps $10 per car — for the licensing and enforcement it would require.

    Similar systems work well in parts of Europe. British Columbia has a flawed version: The government is responsible for enforcement and won’t spend enough to do that job.

    Here, politics intervene.

    The Conservatives won’t touch the idea because it appears to clash with their mantra of cutting taxes and red tape and their criticism of the government’s Eco-Fees — even though the association’s scheme is a business-oriented polar opposite of that botched program. The Liberals have said positive things about the plan but won’t set themselves up for attack on any policy that hints of regulation. The New Democrats are aligned with the United Auto Workers which, to protect union jobs, wants the carmakers made responsible for recycling.

    But this is a good, simple idea that, as the association notes, is also a first step toward responsible, efficient battery recycling.

    It deserves better.