What is the environmental impact on a single car ?

Date Of Article: 2009-08-12

To discover the answer to this question the prestigious Environment and Forecasting Institute in Heidelberg took a medium-sized car and assumed it was driven for 13,000 kilometres a year over 10 years to determin its “cradle to grave" environmental impact.

They found that long before the car even got to the showroom it was responsabile for large amounts of damage to air, water and land through the extraction of raw materials alone. before this average car even hits the road it has produced 26.5 tonnes of waste and a full 922 million cubic meters of polluted air.

During its 10 years of use, this one car (with a three-way catalytic converter and using 10 litres of unleaded petrol for every 100 kilometres) will produce 44.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 4.8 kilograms of sulphur dioxide, 46.8 kg of nitrogen dioxide, 325 kg of carbon monoxide and 36 kg of hydrocarbons. It will pump another 1,016 million cubic metres of polluted air into the atmosphere and will release 18 kilograms of road surface, tyre and brake dust. The car is also one of the major causes of ground water and soil pollution due to dumped oil, battery acid, salt runoff, etc.

The pollution continues beyond the end of the car's life. Disposal of the vehicle produces a further 102 million cubic metres of polluted air and quantities of PCB's and hydrocarbons, sump oils, battery acids, etc.

The final result for this one car stands at 59.7 tonnes of global warming carbon dioxide, an impressive 2040 million cubic metres of polluted air and 26.5 tonnes of waste.

But this is only half the story the report goes on to include some of the environmental effects which are often overlooked, amonge them acid rain and road danger.

Forest damage in central europe is extensive due to acid rain and vehicle exhaust emissions. The researchers estimates that every car in its lifetime is responsible for three dead trees and 30 "sick" trees.

They also calculated that each car is responsible for 820 hours of life lost through a road traffic fatality and a further 2,800 hours of life damaged by injury. In Germany one person in every 100 will be killed by an automobile and two out of every three will be injured.

The researcers also looked at land use. Every car in Germany consumes 200 square metres of tarmac and concrete for driving and parking alone. Driving and parking account for 3,700 square kilometres of Gemanys land, a figure which is 60 per cent greater then all the land which is allocated to housing.

The reserch from heidleburg is impressive but still it only skratches the surface, to this list of environmental impacts must be added noise pollution, energy use, urban sprawl, the health impact of obesity and a seditary lifestyles, socal disconnection, road rage, the loss of public domain, the distruction of citys, oil dependace, global warming, militery expenditure, etc - The list seems to go on and on.

A move towards more environmentally frendly hybride or electric cars is as much about image as substance. Yes - there are technical fixs to some problems, but at the end of the day using a machine that weighes in at one and a half tonnes just to collect quort of milk is never going to be environmentally friendly.

Reference:- Umwelt-und Prognose-Institut Heidelberg Öko-bilanz eines autolebens UPI, Landstrasse 118a, D-69121, Heidelberg, Germany. Tel/fax: +(49) (0) 6221-47-35-00. Study available for 10 DM