Cars That do not Comply with Environmental Rules in Europe End Up Being Sold in Africa

A large part of the cars discarded in Europe for not complying with environmental regulations end up being exported to Africa, where they will have a second polluting life. The history of Benin, the country where most cars enter.

Lot of cars imported from Europe to Benin, gateway to Africa. The images correspond to the port of Coconou, access to this African country.

Environmental policies regarding automobiles are increasingly strict in Europe. The old continent has clearly opted for the electric car, to the point that it has prohibited the use of cars that emit carbon dioxide beyond 2035. These policies mean that a large number of cars that do not pass current inspections or conditions are left out. of the system. That's when the big question arises: what happens to those used cars that no one wants anymore or that don't pass the controls?

An imported sedan about 15 years old sells in Benin for about $2,300. A new model costs 12 times more and the average salary is $100 a month.

The truth is that a part goes to scrap, but another large portion ends up being exported to Africa, and especially to a specific country: Benin, as indicated in a report by Motor Pasión. Benin is a small country, a former French colony, with a coast on the Gulf of Guinea, bordering Togo to the west and Nigeria to the east. It has about 13 million inhabitants. This country is the gateway for thousands of cars discarded in Europe.

According to UN data, Africa is the main destination for used vehicles, since 25% of exported second-hand cars end up there. Statistics indicate that between 2015 and 2020, some 5.6 million ended up on this continent from Europe, the United States, Turkey, South Korea or Japan. The point is that most of those cars are old, in poor condition and highly polluting.

A lot of hypocrisy in the first world

Reality shows great hypocrisy. The first world gets rid of cars because they are considered highly polluting, but they end up in countries where there are practically no controls. Many of these cars surpassed the 170,000 kilometre barrier, but for users in Africa they are like new. In Cotonou, the access port to Benin, close to Porto-Novo, its capital, you can usually see numbers of cars like on the lots of large automotive companies where new models ready to go on the market are displayed.

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Benin imported a total of 343 million dollars in used cars in 2021 alone. Most arrive in that country after leaving Belgium, the United States or Canada, with a stopover in the Arab Emirates. Already in 2014 a report from BBC indicated that every year, around 400,000 cars pass through the port of Cotonou. The process of importing, maintaining and selling imported used cars generates 10,000 direct jobs at the port, and up to 100,000 indirect jobs.

The size of this business is so large to the point that one of the largest used car markets in the country has an area of 140 hectares, about 1.4 square kilometres. Most of the cars that arrive in Benin are sold to Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, but especially its huge neighbour Nigeria, which is the most populated country on the continent. Nigeria has a vehicle fleet of 15 million cars but less than a quarter are new. In 2016, Nigeria placed restrictions on car imports, but little change was seen in practice.

Guaranteed contamination

For example, some numbers: an imported sedan about 15 years old sells in Benin for about $2,300. A new model costs 12 times more and the average salary is 100 dollars per month, as indicated in a report by Las Empresas Verdes. The central countries show themselves with policies to help the environment, but end up selling the discarded material so that it continues to pollute Africa.

Second-hand cars exported to Africa waiting to be sold on a large beach in Nigeria.

Most cars exported to developing countries are old and polluting. The same UN report that we cited at the beginning indicates that the vast majority are not very energy efficient, potentially dangerous and counterproductive in reducing carbon emissions. During an inspection in 2019 in Amsterdam, where ships carrying cars leave for Africa, the loaded vehicles were on average 18 years old. The average mileage was over 200,000 kilometres. 93 percent of those cars had a Euro 3 label or lower, meaning they were registered before 2000. Most would not pass any technical inspection in Europe.

Before being sent to Africa, many cars have the catalyst removed, an engine component that reduces the emission of toxic non-carbon gases, such as nitrogen oxide. Their value can exceed $100, an incentive to remove and sell them before exporting the car. The combo is completed with the very poor quality fuel that is consumed in much of Africa, which, added to cars like these, means that cities are increasingly contaminated with dangerous metals in suspension. In theory, imported vehicles must have been registered at least in 2006. But many of the vehicles arriving in Benin are much older.