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Author: Peter Hannam
Source: The Age
Date: 19 June, 2013

The insurance industry has been blasted for blocking the recovery of highly potent greenhouse gases contained in hundreds of thousands of written-off vehicles sold at auction each year.

About 600,000 cars are sold each year for parts and scrap metal. Each contains about 250 grams of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) 134a gas in its airconditioning unit, little of which is recovered though a law bans its deliberate release.

Since HFC134a has about 1300 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide, capturing the gas could save the equivalent of 200,000 tonnes of C02-equivalent in annual emissions.

Advocates of a new gas recovery technology say the main auction firms, such as Manheim and Pickles, could allow cars to be de-gassed within minutes before sale. That move, though, would require the owners – typically insurers – to give the all clear.

”If the insurance companies said they wanted to do it, we’d work with them to facilitate it,” said Mathew McAuley, Manheim communications manager.

Grabbing the gas before a sale is vital since buyers of the wrecks number in their thousands, making enforcement of the 1989 act banning release of HFCs and ozone-depleting refrigerants almost impossible, said Barry Isenberg, a consultant to the dismantling industry.

”It’s a win for the environment; it costs nothing for insurance companies, or the auction houses,” said Mr Isenberg, who was once dubbed by US media as ”the messiah of the auto recycling industry”.

Greens leader Christine Milne has also written to the Insurance Council of Australia and to Amanda Rishworth, the parliamentary secretary for sustainability and urban water, to urge insurers to let de-gassers access to the cars.

“I’d like to see greater compliance [with the law] by requiring written-off vehicles to be de-gassed prior to auction,” Senator Milne said.

Campbell Fuller, spokesman for the Insurance Council said the gas was “a commodity and forms a significant part of the value of the vehicles being sold.”

“Further, auction houses do not support (the degassing) – they do not own the gas or the vehicles, and allowing a third-party company access to their premises and vehicle storage warehouses compromises security and creates (occupational health and safety) and liability issues.”

The insurance industry “believes de-gassing must take place at the end of the recycling chain,” Mr Fuller said. “It is the responsibility of the final owner to ensure this material is collected in accordance with relevant laws.”

Manheim’s Mr McAuley said cars are often parked for weeks while insurance papers are processed and that many contractors move around the sale yards without harming safety.

A high-placed industry official said it was “absolute nonsense” that the gas had any significant value, and that “everybody would be a winner” if insurers gave de-gassers access to the cars since most of the gas would simply end up in the atmosphere without intervention.

Solving the car refrigerant issue would also be “a great start” for getting other recycling industries, particularly those handling air-conditioners which hold even more HFC gas, the official said.

Read article in The Age