Ministers set to soften EU car recycling draft

Car-making countries argue for deletion of proposed heavy metal ban, recycling targets

EU environment ministers look set to amend proposed legislation on recycling old cars to allow the continued use of heavy metals, following negotiations in the Council of Ministers brokered by the Austrian EU presidency.

Under pressure from the major car manufacturing countries, diplomats have moved away from a European Commission proposal to ban lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium. Instead of a ban effective from early next decade, the presidency is now proposing a gradual phase-out as and when replacement materials become available.

Decisions on which substance must be phased out for particular applications by a particular date would be taken by a European Commission committee. The committee would also set out maximum heavy metal levels in the applications allowed a derogation.

According to one Brussels diplomat, this would effectively mean that car makers could continue to use lead - used in solder and in steel alloys - and hexavalent chromium - used to make certain components more resilient. Mercury might have a derogation for use in some lamps, but cadmium would probably be phased out immediately.

Recycling targets proposed by the Commission also look set to be watered down by ministers. Most countries are happy with recovery targets put forward of 85% of vehicles' weight by 2005 and 95% by 2015, according to sources. However, Germany, France, Greece, Portugal and Ireland are reported to pushing for corresponding recycling targets - 80% by 2005 and 85% by 2015 - to be lowered or removed altogether.

A diplomat said that after recent discussions it now looked likely that there would be a 2005 target - possibly lower than 80% - but that the 2015 target would be deleted or made indicative rather than mandatory.

Car-making countries - particularly Germany, France and Sweden - are also calling for a change to the proposed requirement that manufacturers accept the full costs of disposing of old cars. They agree that car owners should be able to dispose of their cars free of charge, to avoid the problem of cars abandoned in the countryside, but say that each member state should be left to decide how the system should work.

This would allow governments to share out the financial burden between the various parties including the recyclers and the state or local authority. A compromise has been proposed whereby member states would be allowed some flexibility on sharing out the costs, but that producers would have to accept at least a proportion of this.

In the 12 November edition of ENDS Daily, we reported that EU environment ministers looked set to "soften" a European Commission proposal to "ban" the use of heavy metals in cars. An EU Council of Ministers working group now looks likely to agree a ban on heavy metals under the draft end-of-life vehicles directive, with associated derogations that would extend the period over which specified heavy metals could continue to be used. The original proposal was in fact not for use of these metals to be banned in cars, but for a requirement that they be separated from waste arising at the end of a vehicle's life. Sources in the Commission argue that EU ministers therefore look set to strengthen rather than weaken its proposal, though some independent observers suggest that a separation requirement would effectively have acted as a ban anyway, given the likely costs of removing heavy metals from scrap cars.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: + 32 2 285 6111.

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