Car recycling in Spain: the power of a good network and sensible laws and legislation

Published on 16 February 2021

European statistics may suggest otherwise, but Spain is doing particularly well when it comes to recycling cars. It has a well-functioning network of processing centres, sensible laws and legislation, and plenty of knowledge and innovation. We talked to Manuel Kindelan, General Manager at SIGRAUTO, to find out what is already going swimmingly and what can still be improved.


Text Jens Holierhoek

Unsplash

With some 47 million inhabitants, Spain is one of the larger countries in Europe, and it has an immense fleet of 29.4 million cars to match, equating to about 625 cars per 1,000 people. You might say Spaniards struggle to say goodbye to their ‘coches’, because, on average, they retire at the ripe old age of 19.3. This is mainly the result of the high number of elderly cars in the country, as about 1 in 5 cars in Spain is more than 20 years old.

When a car retires, it ends up at a car dismantling company, as an End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV).

All cars that end up at such a processing centre are deregistered with a certificate of destruction. The process of decommissioning an ELV is fairly similar to what we do in the Netherlands. Fluids such as oil and brake fluid are collected first, after which parts that can still be reused are dismantled. After the dismantling company, it is time for the shredder, a 4000-horsepower machine that shreds the rest of the car into thousands of pieces, after which the various metals and materials have to be separated. The various material streams then make their way to specialised recycling or processing centres and post shredder factory’s.

It’s all pretty standard fare. If we take a look at Europe’s most recent recycling figures (2018), however, they seem to suggest that Spain is lagging behind the rest of Europe, with ‘only’ 92.6% of a car’s weight being recycled and recovered. How is that possible?

"Spain is lagging behind the rest of Europe, with ‘only’ 92.6% of a car’s weight being recycled and recovered"
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Robust reporting methods

Looking purely at the score, you might think that Spain still has some work to do when it comes to recycling cars, but the actual situation is a lot more nuanced, says Manuel Kindelan, General Manager at SIGRAUTO, the body responsible for car recycling in Spain. The European Commission is aware of these flaws and and has taken account of the skewed nature of the reporting in its latest amendment to the ELV directive.” Kindelan emphasises that Spain can consider itself a peer of high-performing countries such as France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden in terms of car recycling. Kindelan also gives the cause of the apparently lower recycling performance: “The lack of waste-to-energy factories in Spain is the main reason why Spain has failed to reach the 95% target, but this is a tough nut to crack.”

Powerful deregulation system

Not only can Spain compete well with other European countries, it is even at the top of the leaderboard in various areas. “Spain has sound laws and legislation and excellent compliance rates. We are among the frontrunners when it comes to compliance with the ELV Convention," says Kindelan. One of SIGRAUTO’s showpieces is its well-functioning deregistration system, with no more than 5 out of 100 ELV’s being lost to an unknown fate in Spain. “In the Spanish system, cars can only be deregistered after they have been dropped off at an Authorized Treatment Facility (ATF) . The ATF then connects to the central Spanish vehicle registration system and deregisters the car. Moreover, Spanish car owners have to deregister their cars to avoid paying road tax,, so they have a powerful incentive to drop off their car at a ATF, just like in the Netherlands.”

Expansive network

Kindelan is also proud of the country’s network of processing centres, with there being as many as 1,300 ATFs throughout Spain. Looking at the map, you will find one or more CATs in even the most remote parts of the country, and there are even 26 shredders and 10 post-shredder facilities in Spain. “All these facilities make use of state-of-the-art technology”, Kindelan stresses. Together, the processing centres can handle about 1,000,000 ELVs a year, which is more than enough to process the 750,000 cars that are retired in Spain every year.

It is noteworthy that Spain is home to some of the largest car dismantling company in Europe. In fact, Desguaces la Torre in Madrid is the biggest on the continent and Desguaces Cortes in Valencia is also a major player. Kindelan believes that this has resulted from sound laws and legislation, high compliance rates and excellent market conditions. “Companies have ample reason to invest in and professionalise their processing sites, constantly improving their processes by acquiring better equipment and fine-tuning their organisation to handle large volumes.” As a result, the used parts market is also flourishing in Spain, becoming a highly developed sector. Through online channels, many used parts cross national borders.

"It is noteworthy that Spain is home to some of the largest car dismantling company in Europe"
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Electric cars and recycling

According to the periodic barometer published by Anfac, the Spanish association of car manufacturers, Spain is lagging behind the rest of Europe in the transition to electric vehicles. At the most recent time of asking, in the autumn of 2020, the country scored a 17.1, putting it just below the European average of 17.7. Anfac also notes that Spain’s car-producing neighbours Italy and France perform significantly better, with scores of 27.7 and 37.9, respectively. “Electric vehicles are being adopted rapidly all over the world, but the transition is yet to pick up pace in Spain. In 2020, there were about 185,000 electric vehicles on Spanish roads”, says Kindelan.

However, there is hope on the EV horizon, with the Spanish government announcing EUR 3.75 billion in aid for the car industry only last summer. Of this enormous capital injection, EUR 100 million (Moves II) has been earmarked for a subsidy plan for electric vehicles, with EUR 250 million (Renove) going towards promoting the sale of electric vehicles. Consumers buying an EV with a large range and scrapping their old car can save up to EUR 5,500.  According to Kindelan, Spanish processing centres currently see few electric vehicles, but he expects this to change significantly in the years to come. “We believe that by 2030, 1 in 10 ELVs reaching a processing centre will be an electric car.”

Kindelan stresses that CATs are already capable of processing electric vehicles, but that there is still some work to be done if they are to handle large quantities. “We expect Spanish ELV regulations to change in the first quarter of 2021, introducing the minimum knowledge and skill levels required to process discarded electric cars.”

European project heavily dependent on Spanish knowledge

2018 saw the launch of the three-year research programme LIFE CIRC-ELV, in which ARN is also a stakeholder. Funded by the European Union, this programme strives to give plastics from ELVs a second life, preferably using the recycled plastic for bumpers and other car parts, or in other applications such as plastic pipelines. The recycling rate has to be upped, as does the quality of the recycled plastic, with newly produced car parts being equal in quality to the original. On top of that, the processes have to be made more efficient, because recycling plastic is only an interesting prospect if the costs can be kept down. The project is headed by Spanish Centre of Technology AIMPLAS, but Spanish plastic manufacturer SIGIT, SIGRAUTO and Desguaces Cortes, one of the largest ELV processing centres in Spain and in Europe as a whole, are also taking part. Thus, this quest to close the plastic loop has a distinctly Iberian flavour. Manuel Kindelan emphasises the importance of the LIFE CIRC-ELV programme: “Recycling plastics from ELVs will be one of the most important issues of the years to come, and it has the potential to become a new source of income for processing centres. At the same time, more and more post-shredding technologies are being developed for plastic, and, ultimately, which option is best for which plastic part will come down to which is most economical.”
lifecircelv.eu/

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Electric cars and recycling

According to the periodic barometer published by Anfac, the Spanish association of car manufacturers, Spain is lagging behind the rest of Europe in the transition to electric vehicles. At the most recent time of asking, in the autumn of 2020, the country scored a 17.1, putting it just below the European average of 17.7. Anfac also notes that Spain’s car-producing neighbours Italy and France perform significantly better, with scores of 27.7 and 37.9, respectively. “Electric vehicles are being adopted rapidly all over the world, but the transition is yet to pick up pace in Spain. In 2020, there were about 185,000 electric vehicles on Spanish roads”, says Kindelan.

However, there is hope on the EV horizon, with the Spanish government announcing EUR 3.75 billion in aid for the car industry only last summer. Of this enormous capital injection, EUR 100 million (Moves II) has been earmarked for a subsidy plan for electric vehicles, with EUR 250 million (Renove) going towards promoting the sale of electric vehicles. Consumers buying an EV with a large range and scrapping their old car can save up to EUR 5,500.  According to Kindelan, Spanish processing centres currently see few electric vehicles, but he expects this to change significantly in the years to come. “We believe that by 2030, 1 in 10 ELVs reaching a processing centre will be an electric car.”

Kindelan stresses that CATs are already capable of processing electric vehicles, but that there is still some work to be done if they are to handle large quantities. “We expect Spanish ELV regulations to change in the first quarter of 2021, introducing the minimum knowledge and skill levels required to process discarded electric cars.”

European project heavily dependent on Spanish knowledge

2018 saw the launch of the three-year research programme LIFE CIRC-ELV, in which ARN is also a stakeholder. Funded by the European Union, this programme strives to give plastics from ELVs a second life, preferably using the recycled plastic for bumpers and other car parts, or in other applications such as plastic pipelines. The recycling rate has to be upped, as does the quality of the recycled plastic, with newly produced car parts being equal in quality to the original. On top of that, the processes have to be made more efficient, because recycling plastic is only an interesting prospect if the costs can be kept down. The project is headed by Spanish Centre of Technology AIMPLAS, but Spanish plastic manufacturer SIGIT, SIGRAUTO and Desguaces Cortes, one of the largest ELV processing centres in Spain and in Europe as a whole, are also taking part. Thus, this quest to close the plastic loop has a distinctly Iberian flavour. Manuel Kindelan emphasises the importance of the LIFE CIRC-ELV programme: “Recycling plastics from ELVs will be one of the most important issues of the years to come, and it has the potential to become a new source of income for processing centres. At the same time, more and more post-shredding technologies are being developed for plastic, and, ultimately, which option is best for which plastic part will come down to which is most economical.”

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