Motoring: False prophets of life after death

ABOUT the only material that is being effectively recycled in the car world these days is the advertising pap about recyclability. Most car- makers are at it, promising recyclability rates of 80-90 per cent: proof, the advertisements and PR handouts suggest, of the industry's new-found greenness.

It is nonsense, of course. New cars today are less recyclable than most vehicles of 20 years ago, because they are chock-a-block full of nasty artificial materials, chosen largely because they are cheap to make. Plastic, from which most cabin fittings and more and more exterior components are made, is difficult to recycle.

Cars of the Sixties and earlier had a much higher percentage of good old-fashioned metal, which is marvellously easy to reconstitute. The scrapyards and steel industry have been recycling partners for years; indeed, the former, despite its visual ugliness, is one of the best examples of motoring greenness. Car-makers - or at least some of them - are making much greater efforts to recycle plastics, and attempts are being made to use fewer types (recycling plastic is a bit like recycling bottles: brown and clear glass should not be mixed, nor should different textures and sorts of plastic).

Progress is also being made in tagging components to facilitate their reuse, but the crux of the problem is not so much how to recycle cars as to ensure that they are recycled. How many new, 85 per cent recyclable cars will actually finish their days in recycling centres? According to a senior engineering acquaintance, 'well under 5 per cent'.

The only way that 85 per cent of a BMW 3-series can achieve life after death is if its owner, at the time of its expiry, can be persuaded to give it a proper burial. BMW has seven recycling plants in Germany, but only one in Britain - in Bolney, Sussex. Unless the car, or a good part of it, is in reasonable condition - and, of course, it most likely won't be - the owner will have to pay the recycling centre to take it. In Germany, this costs about 200 marks (more than pounds 80).

These approved centres employ many ingenious ways of recycling BMWs. The components that can be reused - engines, gearboxes and alternators, for instance - will be sold on to the second-hand trade, with a BMW warranty. Old oil and fluids will be burnt, to help to heat and provide energy for the centre. Batteries and brake fluid can be used again. Steel and aluminium are easily reconstituted. Plastics, polyester seat coverings and those mixed synthetic materials that at present are difficult to recycle, can be shredded and used as sound-proofing.

BMW and some other German manufacturers are urging the EC to make recycling at official dismantling centres compulsory. One idea is that owners should continue to pay road tax until their vehicles are scrapped at such centres.

It seems to me, however, that the only way to ensure that cars are properly recycled may be to do away with car ownership altogether; and this would have other important environmental benefits.

Instead of 'buying' a new car, we would take out a lease on it, probably of 10 years. If, after three years, we wished to sell the car, we would sell the remaining seven-year lease.

After the 10 years - by which time the car would probably be on its third or fourth 'owner' - it would be returned to the factory-approved dealer from whom it was leased. If the dealer felt the car had reached the end of its useful life, it would be properly recycled; if not, a new lease would be issued.

Such a system has numerous other environmental benefits. The car would be properly serviced and maintained, as a condition of the lease. So, unlike most old cars at present, it would not squander fuel and belch emissions; nor would it run around on bald tyres or with defective brakes.

Regular checks could be made on the condition of the car's catalytic converter, the device, now compulsory on new cars made for sale in the EC, which removes about 90 per cent of exhaust toxins.

The trouble is, the converters are delicate: they start to deteriorate after only 50,000 miles, half the usual life of a car, and at present no checks are made on their efficacy after sale.

And under the leasing system, licensed service centres would maintain all cars, which would do away with the need for an MoT.

Such a system could be less expensive for car-users. After all, the manufacturers would know that much of the raw materials would be returned to them from the recycling centres.

The cost of leasing an old car might be higher than that of running such a vehicle today. But as today's cars age, they cannot be held together by tape, wire and an occasional spare from Halfords; not when expensive electronic control units oversee all their main functions, and they contain a host of other mechanical and electronic complications. The DIY mechanic is fast heading for extinction.

One fact should be borne in mind when evaluating how best to recycle cars. According to Dr Horst-Henning Wolf, head of recycling at BMW, 90 per cent of the energy used up in the lifetime of a typical car comes from the fuel that it burns; and only 10 per cent is spent on the manufacturing process.

Thus, he says, improvements in a car's fuel efficiency would be more beneficial than more efficient recyclability.

Mind you, clever manufacturers, including BMW, are aiming for both.

There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice