ILT: Older vehicles no longer welcome in West Africa

From January 2021, over 80% of the used vehicles currently exported from the Netherlands to Africa will no longer be allowed into 15 West African countries. They are closing the borders for these vehicles to improve air quality because many are of poor quality. This is the outcome of the "Used Vehicles Exported to Africa" report from the Netherlands Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT).

Tweedehands auto op een markt in Addis Abeba, Ethiopië.
©Bengt van Loosdrecht

ILT's comprehensive review shows that many of the cars and vans shipped from Dutch ports to African countries are older vehicles. They have low European emission standards and do not hold a valid roadworthiness certificate. Additionally, testing showed that there are often technical issues with their emission control systems. ILT is sharing its findings with the UN Environment Program (UNEP), leading a new global initiative to improve emission levels and roadworthiness in Africa.

ILT's Inspector General Jan van den Bos: "Now that West African countries are so clearly putting a stop to the import of old and polluting cars, it is important that Europe takes action to ensure that these vehicles are no longer sent to Africa. If we only take action from the Netherlands, this will shift the industry to other European ports, with little effect on the problem. Our report signals that swift and coordinated action is necessary. The insights from our review can contribute to this process.”

Dismantling

In the Netherlands, around 500,000 used passenger vehicles are struck from the Vehicle Register every year. Over half of them are exported. This includes around 80,000 vehicles that may otherwise be scrapped in the Netherlands, due to their age and emission levels. Over a quarter of these (>20,000) end up in Africa.

Risks

The Netherlands is not the only country that exports older vehicles. Vehicle export from other European countries is larger and of no better quality. These exports have a major impact in African countries; high emissions of particulates, NOx and CO2 – causing risks to human health and the environment. Poor-quality used vehicles also lead to more road accidents.

“These results show that urgent action needs to be taken to improve the quality of used vehicles exported from Europe. The Netherlands cannot address this issue alone. Therefore, I will call for a coordinated European approach, and a close cooperation between European and African governments, to ensure that the EU only exports vehicles that are fit for purpose, and compliant with standards set by importing countries” Stientje Van Veldhoven, The Netherlands Minister for the Environment, said.

Waste

There are currently not enough facilities in Africa to dismantle older cars in a safe way. However, now, few vehicles shipped to Africa are classified as waste based on current European legislation – EU Waste Shipment Regulation and the End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive. Amendment and harmonisation of laws and regulations between exporting and importing countries to classify poor-quality vehicles that do not meet certain criteria as waste could prevent export in the future. Exporters will then no longer be able to send these vehicles to West African countries and will have to offer them for recycling in Europe. The European Commission is currently evaluating and revising EU Waste Shipment Regulation and the ELV Directive.

Circular economy

If these older vehicles no longer get exported, they will have to be dismantled in the Netherlands. In addition to promoting air quality in African urban areas, this will contribute to a circular economy by preserving valuable raw materials and precious metals. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by refrigerants leaking from car air conditioners.

UNEP

It is for these reasons, that ILT has shared its findings with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands as well as UNEP. “Information is vital to addressing any environmental challenge we face and I welcome efforts by the Netherlands to provide important insights into the export of used vehicles from the European Union”, said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. We look forward to close collaboration with African governments, the Netherlands, and partners as we work towards a cleaner and safer vehicle fleet in Africa.”

Infographic - Export used vehicles to Africa
Image: Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate