autowash

Photo by John Cogill

The Petrol Retailers Association in the U.K. recently highlighted an interesting trend involving the decline of automatic car washes in favor of hand washes. The Daily Mail reports that the number of automatic car washes has been reduced by half the past 15 years throughout the U.K. The change has the association worried about what it will mean for the environment given that many hand wash operations aren’t regulated.

A report submitted to the government said that hand washing businesses employ an estimated 30,000 workers. The report went on to describe those businesses as ones that “provide a haven for illegal and unregistered foreign workers.” The report claims that hand washing establishments wash dangerous chemicals directly into stormwater drains whereas automatic washes are more precise in terms of the amount of water and chemicals they use and how they are disposed.

“Over the last 10 years, this has almost killed off the mechanical rollover car wash. About 70 percent of all retail washes are now done by hand and the great majority of these people are completely unregulated,” said Association Chairman Brian Madderson. “They’re using all kinds of horrible chemicals, particularly to clean alloy wheels, and there’s very little done to stop this stuff just being flushed into the local waterways.”

The association went on to estimate that at least half of hand washes in the U.K. are unregulated. They also attributed the uptick in hand washes in part to increases in immigration, which supply the workers. The report reads: “In the absence of available skilled work, many migrant workers have taken semi-skilled work including roles that are considered unattractive to the local population.”