Consultation document on risk management options for lead wheel weights: chapter 4

4.1. Current Market

Lead is the most common material used for wheel balancing, accounting for about 72% (i.e., 3675 tonnes) of the Canadian wheel weight market in 2011.

Figure 1: Market for Wheel Weights in Canada (2011-2012)

Market for Wheel Weights in Canada for 2011-2012 in percentages (see long description below).

Prepared by Environment Canada 2013.

Description of Figure 1

Figure 1 represents the Canadian wheel weight market in 2011-2012. 72% of wheel weights contained lead, 17% contained steel, 11% contained zinc and 0.1% contained other materials.

4.2. Manufacturing and Import

Lead wheel weights continue to be manufactured and imported in North America for the aftermarket segment. Three North American wheel weight manufacturers (one Canadian company and two U.S.-owned companies with sales/distribution offices in Canada) share most of the Canadian lead wheel weight market. These companies have already implemented policies and procedures to encourage the use of lead-free wheel weights.

4.3. New Vehicles

Automotive manufacturers are no longer installing lead wheel weights on new cars in Canada, since 2008.

4.4. Aftermarket (e.g., Tire Dealers and Repair Shops)

Tire dealers and auto repair shops continue to install lead wheel weights on vehicles in Canada. It is estimated that these industries had removed about 1598 tonnes of lead wheel weights from vehicles in 2011. Although several major companies have switched to alternatives, there remain significant variations in management procedures from company to company associated with lead wheel weights removal from vehicles. For example, several companies indicated in a recent survey that they “gave away” their unwanted wheel weights to consumers (Environment Canada, 2013).

4.5. End-of-life Management of Vehicles

Due to their value, automotive dismantlers and recyclers typically remove lead wheel weights and sell them to a scrap broker/aggregator for profit. It is estimated that automotive dismantlers and recyclers removed about 245 tonnes of lead wheel weights from cars in 2011. However, there is an uncertainty associated with their procedures in this regard, due to the current lack of regulation and licensing for this sector (e.g., many facilities in this sector do not operate under any environmental management system). As such, the fate of lead wheel weights in some of these facilities is unknown.

4.6. Lead Wheel Weights Recycling (i.e., Lead Smelting)

Wheel weights are recycled via secondary smelters. Most secondary lead smelters focus on recycling lead from lead acid batteries. Secondary lead smelters without the infrastructure to recycle lead acid batteries focus on other sources of scrap lead including lead wheel weights. In 2011, an estimated 1199 tonnes of wheel weights were recycled in Canada, which can form up to 25% of the smelters’ scrap lead feedstock.

An increasing presence of wheel weight alternatives has caused some technical issues for secondary smelting. In fact, since the melting points of lead and zinc are similar, they are therefore difficult to separate during smelting. As a result, lead recovery rates have decreased (e.g., recovery rates for lead wheel weights were 80-90% before the introduction of zinc and steel wheel weights, but now average 65-75%).

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