RSS Feed

Related Articles

Related Categories

The 411 on Auto Recycling

15th March 2020 Print

Can you believe that as of 2019, there were over 276 million operating vehicles on the road in the U.S. alone? Additionally, another 17 million new vehicles are added every model year, while the others get older, less valuable, and less functional. 

In other words, many of these earlier models will eventually stop working. That means 12 million cars will be discarded in as little as 12 months. Yikes.

Auto recycling is the answer to keep junk cars out of the landfill during this time of increasing waste and decreasing land space.

Why is Auto Waste a Problem?

About 60 years ago, when we were unaware of the damage we were doing to the environment, we simply junked older and dysfunctional vehicles that couldn’t be fixed. They were left to rot, and often became the default homes for wildlife. But, that’s no longer the case.

The Age of Auto Recycling

In 1965, the Highway Beautification Act eliminated the eyesores of roadside junkyards and gave birth to the contemporary auto recycling movement, though the initial idea is technically over 75 years old. As such, most cars these days are no longer junked. They are instead recycled into new products or even into pieces to create brand new cars. 

As a matter of fact, 25 million tons of material is recycled annually from vehicles that are beyond repair. Today, cars are the world’s most recycled consumer product.

The modern auto recycling and salvage yard is currently a $34 million industry in America, finishing as the country's 16th largest economic providing service in 2019 while employing 140,000 people across 9,000 shops.

Essentially, 10 million cars and other vehicles each year are surrendered for recycling once they are no longer useful. It’s not easy to handle cars that have exceeded their use and it’s actually painstaking to break each vehicle down in an environmentally-safe way. This is especially difficult since the process also requires speed and efficiency.

To help you better understand this process, here’s a guide on how vehicles are recycled, step-by-step.

1. Depollution

Depollution involves removing any operating fluids from an automobile. This is pertinent, since the amount of hazardous liquids, as well as contaminating metals that are safely drained and removed from vehicle annually can cause eight times the environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster.

The substances are either recycled, reprocessed, or reused. Any excess materials are disposed of safely.

These fluids and metal contaminants include gasoline, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, gear oil, air conditioning refrigerant, chromium, lead, and cadmium. Additionally, North American vehicle recyclers save approximately 85 million barrels of oil that can be used to create new vehicle parts.

Nearly 100% of vehicle batteries can also be recycled, sparing the environment from the toxic efforts of sulphuric acid. Toxins like mercury and sodium azide are removed from dashboard switches and air bags respectively, too.

2. Resource Recovery

Vehicle recycling across North America is responsible for at least 37% of the ferrous, or iron-containing, metal provided to United States smelters and blast furnaces. Vehicles are known to be rich in iron, titanium, magnesium, and other useful metals.

Recycling such metals reduces up to 30 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. And, that’s just from the metal parts and pieces. Recycling one ton of steel, specifically, saves iron ore, limestone, and coal by the ton.

As a matter of fact, more than 14 million tons of steel are recycled from junk vehicles in North America each year. That actually provides enough recycled steel to produce nearly 13 million new cars containing at least 25% of their bodies made from the material.

During vehicle recycling, up to 90% of the aluminum can also be saved and reused. This counts for 50% of a vehicle's scrap value, though it accounts for less than 10% of its weight.

Recycling precious metals, like copper, can save up to 90% of the energy used to mine and process the metal. Even catalytic converters contain platinum, palladium, and rhodium, which can be reused to make jewelry, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and even new catalytic converters.

Rubber is another salvageable material. Rather than allow waste tires to pile up and become sources of sitting water, which draws mosquitoes, why not recycle the rubber to make playground padding, roofing, sandals, and building materials?

Windshield and window glass can be recycled to create porcelain products, countertops, tiles for floors and walls, and jewelry. Even used vehicle carpeting is reconstructed into new auto parts.

3. Destruction

Between 15 - 20% of a typical vehicle is unable to be recycled or reused. This portion is deemed “auto shredder residue” or ASR.

This refers to anything left after everything of value is removed from the car. This can include dangerous waste such as mercury or lead, which requires special handling upon disposal.

Other Reasons to Recycle Automobiles

After they stop functioning, a vehicle's owners can still profit from selling their cars. Also, recycled metals cost less to use than new ones and this means the price of items made from these materials is significantly less, too.

Recyclers are also great sources for inexpensive and scarce auto replacement parts. Reusing parts also reduces the need to create new ones by up to 80%.

Don’t forget the additional benefits to the environment. These include extending the timeline of when finite resources will run out, reducing the amount of new materials needed to build new cars (which lowers cost and the amount of energy needed), lessening steel plant emissions, and saving landfill space.

Now that you know about auto recycling, you can see that it’s simply making the best use of vehicles that no longer work properly. It provides many environmental and financial advantages, and may even be a promising business idea for an aspiring entrepreneur.