INTERNATIONAL: Auto Recycling Spurred By Limited Landfill Space

Landfill space in Europe is extremely limited and, in many locales, virtually non-existent. In order to combat this growing problem, the European Economic Community (EEC) has proposed a ma-jor reduction in the percentage of a car's weight allowed to enter a landfill.

By the year 2002, EEC may allow only 15 percent of a car's weight to be landfilled and by 2015 that number could decrease to 5 percent. In the United States, similar landfill restrictions are likely to appear in the near future.

Currently, about 70 to 80 percent of a junked vehicle's weight is recovered and recycled, leaving future recycling efforts to focus on the more difficult-to-recycle items. Fortunately, many European auto-makers are already working to-wards these goals. For example, in June, Sweden's Volvo formed the Environmental Car Recycling in Scandinavia (ECRIS) project in order to develop advanced recycling methods for dismantling and sorting recyclable and nonrecyclable materials.

During the recycling process, technicians use special tools and techniques to remove hazardous fluids air conditioning refrigerant, gasoline, engine oil, coolant, and brake hydraulic fluid which are then filtered and recycled or safely destroyed.

Next, vehicles are placed on a special swiveling frame unit which rotates the vehicle for easy access to underbody components (see diagram). Powertrain components are then removed for reuse, rebuilding or scrap. Other components are re-moved and sorted by material type.

Engineers monitor and evaluate the entire dismantling process. The information is then analyzed to determine which of the various recycling technologies are the most cost-effective, and result in the least environmental impact. Scrap-ping procedure manuals are compiled to train recycling technicians.

ECRIS also is researching methods to design future cars for easier disassembly and identification for recycling. For example, the dismantling vehicle's process has revealed that Volvo used hundreds of plastics in previous models, many of which were not categorized by type. This made sorting virtually impossible. Future vehicles are targeted to use no more than five different plastic materials, each marked for easy identification.

Finally, ECRIS's life cycle analysis estimates the total environmental "cost" of a vehicle from cradle to grave. Europeans are increasingly sensitive to the environmental damage resulting from the building, owning, servicing and junking of vehicles. One solution is an "environmental report card" window sticker. Much like the price, country of origin and fuel economy stickers now found on new cars, this sticker would give a car's total environmental impact, which buyers then could use to compare between vehicles.

Aside from junked vehicles, ECRIS recycles production waste from Volvo's Swedish plants and used-parts from its Swedish-dealer repair shops. Non-recyclable materials are used as an energy source. In Gothenburg, Sweden, for in-stance, these waste materials are used in a heating plant.

As landfill space becomes less and less available, recycling programs will continue to grow in priority. The ECRIS project is striving to offer some preliminary solutions to a very difficult problem.

Volvo and two scrap metal shredders, AB Gotthard Nilsson and Stena Bilfragmentering AB, each own 19 percent of ECRIS. The re-maining 43 percent is held by Bil-demontering AB, a dismantler in Jonkoping, Sweden, where the pilot recycling facility is located. ECRIS is financed by contributions, re-search grants and sales of dismantled materials through ECRIS participants.