How to get rid of that old jalopy and clear your eco-conscience

Although recycling is not as ingrained a habit in Greece as in other European countries, the recycling of old cars has been possible here since 2001, when a law was passed in accordance with a European Union directive. According to the directive, it is the car manufacturers or importers themselves who are obliged to set up an alternative system of doing away with old cars. The non-profit Alternative Vehicle Management System of Greece (EDOE) was set up for this purpose by official dealers and importers of cars. EDOE director Epameinondas Vonazountas explained how the system works. «Cars, particularly the older ones, contain dangerous substances such as lead and acids, mercury, cadmium, mineral oils, rubber and other substances. Before this, old cars were at best dumped in junkyards where anything of value was removed and the rest discarded; at worst they were left to rot on the streets or even in fields or ravines, polluting the environment.» According to the Association of Car Importers’ Representatives (SEAA), every year some 25,000 cars are abandoned, bringing the total around the country to over half a million. Many have been temporarily withdrawn from circulation based on a provision from the Transport Ministry giving owners the right to hand in their license plates temporarily in order to avoid paying circulation fees. «Cars are considered a property asset, so owners do not easily give them up, even if they are never going to use them again,» said Vonazountas. «That is why many of them abuse the system, filling the city streets with abandoned cars.» Since the recycling centers opened in December 2004, over 7,600 cars have yielded 178.5 tons of rubber, 1.2 tons of catalytic converters, 19.3 tons of mineral oils, 6.7 tons of refrigeration fluid and 1.2 tons of brake fluid. Most of the recycling centers are in northern Greece, although three centers near Athens recently received permits, with another 22 in the offing. Step by step First the wheel hubs and tires are removed. If the hubs are made of aluminum they are recycled on the spot, otherwise they are sent to steel furnaces. Rubber tires are handed over to the Ecoelastica tire recycling plant. Battery fluids are sent to be deactivated and the batteries go to the Association for the Alternative Management of Used Batteries (SYDESIS). Larger plastic parts such as bumper bars are removed (unless they are made of polyester, which cannot be recycled). Part of the catalytic converter can be recycled – in Greece there are two firms that do this – while the rest is sent abroad. Mineral oils are drained along with the brake and refrigerator fluids and the gasoline, stored in separate tanks and sent for recycling. Four in five abandoned cars have up to 20 liters of gasoline in their tanks. The windows are next, right before the body of the car is crushed in a machine that can crush up to 75 cars a day. The compressed residue is sorted into metal and non-recyclable material. Iron, copper, aluminum and non-ferrous metals are removed. Aluminum is converted into plaques that are packaged and sold. The rest is discarded. All car owners have to do is take their cars to one of the centers. The Transport Ministry will no longer withdraw the registration of any car which has not been given a certificate issued by the recycling center that it has been destroyed. This article first appeared in the March issue of Kathimerini supplement «Eco.»