Essential information for end of life vehicle dismantling, depollution and recycling

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To Electricity and Beyond …

VRA vehicle recycling association

Adrian Pierce, Business Development Director at AutoDrain and committee member of VRA, shares his thoughts on vehicle electrification, the changes ahead for the internal combustion engine and how the VRA continues to strive to support their members within the vehicle dismantling industry.

It has often been said that Businesses are either growing or dying. This is a reality that drives a desire to change in many businesses. Similarly a failure to recognise it has brought about the downfall of some huge and previously hugely successful organisations.  

The brutal reality, of course, is that the world changes around us and businesses have to change to survive. With a new identity and a new website in development, the VRA is working hard to recognise the needs of existing and potential new members and make membership an attractive proposition for more and more recyclers in the future.

But in its former guise as the MVDA the VRA existed for over 75 years and it hasn’t done that by changing its name and its purpose every few months. That, of course, is the conflict at the very heart of any move to change and improve; how do you move forward without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Our industry is certainly going through a significant period of change and has been for some years now. Legislation to protect the environment came hot on the heels of major steps forward in vehicle design. We have seen cars developed that last much longer and regularly achieve mileages unheard of 30 years ago. At the same time the efficiencies of modern cars are the result of complex systems delivering fuel at high pressure under computerised control and with electronics that would have shamed an aircraft 50 years ago. Even so, these complex machines are still superceded each year with ever more desirable vehicles. Over years they still move through chains of owners until they eventually end up in the hands of VRA members or those many  unregulated breakers who impact on legitimate recyclers so much.

Whilst these much more complex vehicles do achieve far higher mileage than cars of the 70’s and 80’s did without requiring major mechanical repair, there is not yet any strong evidence that they actually last any longer. Complex electrical and sensing systems mean expensive dealer only parts, potentially difficult to diagnose faults and cars lives being ended due to singular failures rather than global corrosion or wear. It could be said that this trend is hugely positive for recyclers. It both pushes some owners to dispose of a vehicle with potentially high value parts on it,  whilst driving others to seek out recycled parts to keep their vehicles on the road.

When we look to an uncertain future though, perhaps most significant of all to many of us, is the apparently inevitable move towards the end of the era of internal combustion engines. Hard to believe, that by the time my teenage children have grown and near retirement, it is likely that a petrol engined car will occupy the same place in the world as a steam engine locomotive does today. By then the VRA (or will it be the EVRC by then, the Electric Vehicle Repurposing Confederation?) membership will, presumably, retain a few elderly guys who can remember how to depollute a fossil fuel powered vehicle if the odd one of the last few does come in.

Despite the odd diversion from across the Atlantic, it does seem likely that pressure to preserve our natural environment will increase rather than lessen. Wherever you sit in the debate on the evidence, the majority still hold that we must reduce our impact on the planet. Unlike old diesel focuses, it’s the only one we’ve got. This is only likely to increase the level of responsible recycling, again a potential positive for legitimate dismantlers.

None of us can tell what the future may hold, but the recycling of complex machines is unlikely to abate, and cars will always, it seems, be complex machines however they are powered. This being the case, it would seem that there will always be a dismantling industry as long as there is a car industry. Perhaps an increased environmental conscience will drive greater funding for regulation (yes please, I hear many cry). Whatever direction the next few years sees our industry take, you can rest assured that the VRA and those involved in it, will continue to work hard to keep our industry’s interests and merits in the minds of legislators and regulators, whoever they may be.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a member of the VRA, visit their website at www.vrauk.org 

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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.