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Publications archive - Waste and recycling


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Environmental Impact of End-of-Life Vehicles: An Information Paper

Environment Australia
ISBN 0642547513

Automobile Life Cycle Impacts

ELVs in context

The focus of this report is on the "retirement" stage of the automobile life cycle.

However, to properly scope the extent of the environmental problems arising from end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), and make judgements about the appropriate rigour and reach of any policy response, it is important to consider the issue in the context of the whole-of-life environmental load of automobiles.

Equally important is an understanding of the interrelationship of environmental considerations at different life stages of the vehicle. A policy response that has an advantageous environmental outcome when a vehicle is scrapped may have a greater negative environmental outcome at other stages in the product life cycle.

No original data were gathered during the review, and the following assessment should be treated only as a rough guide. From discussions with the Australian Greenhouse Office for instance, it is apparent that there is some technical debate about the relative proportion of emissions attributable to the manufacturing and in-service life cycle phases. Nevertheless, the general assertion that end of life considerations should not overshadow the greater impacts occurring in other life cycle phases is considered accurate.

Stage 1: acquisition and processing of virgin resources

Stage 1 comprises the extraction and refining of raw materials for input to the manufacturing process, such as metals, rubber, oil (for plastics) and water. Some issues associated with stage one include:

Stage 2: the manufacturing process

The impacts in this stage particularly relate to energy use (and associated emissions), as well as waste products from the manufacturing process such as airborne emissions, waste water and solid waste.

The most substantial environmental impact occurs in the painting and coating processes in vehicle manufacture, accounting for 56% of all releases and transfers to the environment (26, p2). The paint shop also consumes about half of the energy required for the whole production process. The painting processes generate substantial amounts of hazardous liquid waste, including lead, nickel, copper, sulphate, chromium and phosphate.

Manufacturers in Australia have made significant improvements in the environmental impacts of vehicle manufacture, with substantial reductions in emissions and resource use.

Environmental Impact of Manufacturing 780,000 New Cars (Australian Sales 2000)

Resources Used Emissions Waste
2,160 GWh energy (electricity and gas) 32.1 tonnes sulphur dioxide -
  408 tonnes nitrogen oxide -
  708 tonnes carbon dioxide -
4.3 billion litres water - Contaminated water, including approx 2.8 tonnes per annum of toxic metals (@0.65mg/l)
Materials - 17,750 tonnes of landfill waste

a) indicative figures only - will depend on processes used in individual manufacturing plants
b) extrapolated from 1997 case study of Vauxhall plant in UK (1, p.6)
c) based on Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries forecast of 780,000 total new vehicle sales for year 2000 (59, p.1) (ie includes imported and domestically manufactured vehicles

Stage 3: operational, or utilisation, stage

Operating and maintaining a vehicle during its working life contributes the greatest environmental impact:

Stage 4: retirement, or disposal, stage

Conclusion - Life-cycle Environmental Impact

The operational and manufacturing life stages of a vehicle are the most significant contributor to the total environment loading of automobiles, and it is therefore appropriate that these have been the main areas of environmental focus.

Relative Environmental Loading of Vehicle Life Cycle Stages.

Relative environmental loading of vehicle life cycle stages

Environmental gains in the operational stage of a vehicle, as the result of the increased use of plastics and other lightweight materials for instance, will normally outweigh the negative environmental impact resulting from less ELV recycling.