The surge in metal prices in recent years has led to the theft of lead from church roofs and the disappearance of steel manhole covers, but one benign consequence has been a sharp drop in the number of dumped cars on the streets of England.
The Local Government Association has released figures showing the number of abandoned vehicles reported to councils has fallen 72 per cent over the last four years.
The association credited its reputation campaign, which committed more than 250 councils to clear up abandoned vehicles within 24 hours. But Paul Bettison, chairman of its environment board, conceded that demand for scrap metal had played its part.
“A few years ago, you’d have had to pay someone to take your old car away but now scrap metal dealers will pay you up to £1,000 ($1,895) for the pleasure.”
Scrap merchants have been prepared to pay cash for old cars as metal prices have rocketed to meet demand from countries such as China and India for raw materials to feed their manufacturing industries.
Lindsay Millington, director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association, welcomed the fall in the number of vehicles being abandoned.
“This is real, concrete evidence that more and more end-of-life vehicles are being properly recycled, year on year, in every region of the country,” she said. “On average, 75 per cent of a car is metal, and all of this will be re-melted to make high quality new metal.”
But the global slowdown could end the bonanza for owners of old bangers, one scrap metal dealer warned.
“We were getting £150 a tonne for scrap cars three months ago,” he said. “Now it has fallen to £80 a tonne – and it could fall further if the price of iron ore drops.”
The LGA figures showed that the number of abandoned vehicles reported to local authorities had fallen from 291,700 in 2002-03 to just 81,700 in 2006-07. Councils have been given powers to seize and destroy dumped cars and owners face stricter monitoring of disposals.
Rules introduced last year mean that even if the scrap price falls further, car owners will still be able to get rid of old vehicles at no cost. Motor manufacturers are responsible for disposing of their own brands under a European Union directive. They have created a network of recycling facilities that will take back old vehicles and recover most of the metals used to make them.