Recycling End-of-Life vehicles
Almost every industry in the United States is looking at ways to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious. The Auto Recycling industry is no exception. Although Auto Recycling has been done for decades, the auto industry is looking at ways to improve the recycling process and increase the amount of material being recycled from end-of-life automobiles. Industry leaders understand the importance of reducing the amount of auto materials going into landfills, including plastics.
Auto Recycling Facts
According to an article written by Lillian Lancer for “Climate of our Future” - Recycling Plastic From Cars: Benefits To The Environment - Climate Of Our Future[i], we reap huge benefits from the recycling of end-of-life vehicles. On average, 10 million vehicles are recycled each year in the US alone. Currently 75% of the material in an auto is recycled. It is hard to believe that cars are the number one recycled product in the US. It is estimated that recycling vehicles saves an estimated 80 million barrels of oil each year!
Recycling of Auto Tires and tubes is a vital part of the push by the auto industry to be more environmentally conscious. Unfortunately, 275 million tires are stockpiled in junkyards in the US each year. At the same time, 100 US cities have already installed rubberized sidewalks using materials from recycled tires. 50 million pounds of road surfaces have been produced utilizing 20 million Tires that had been recycled. 2.7 million tires are recycled into 30 million pounds of playground equipment each year.
Plastics Recycling from Automobiles
Recycling of plastic material from automobiles reduces energy needed for production. Plastic from recycled vehicles can be used to produce new parts and even entire vehicles. We see this with BMW’s I Vision Circular, an electric car that is 100% recyclable and entirely made of materials derived from recycled materials.
How is Auto Recycling Done
In the most simplistic explanation, cars are recycled by breaking them down into component parts that can be immediately resold as used parts. After any metal has been separated from the plastic & glass, the metals are melted down and reformed into new car parts. Recycling of glass & plastic allows new materials to be made and used to make new products.
Regarding plastics, Automotive Recyclers collect and sort the plastic components of end-of-life vehicles. The plastics are then processed at specialized recycling facilities where they are melted down to be made into other products, either for car parts or other consumer goods. Recycling of the plastic from old vehicles reduces the amount of plastic waste that can end up in oceans and landfills, which, of course, helps to protect the environment.
Check out this Video on how Auto Recycling is done - https://youtu.be/X7YMfdB37Us
Examples of Recycling in the Auto Industry
Many automobile companies are looking at ways to utilize recycled materials in the manufacture of new vehicles. For over a decade, The Open Group has been recycling metals. The Renault Group has also been recycling. The Renault project’s goals are to create a “closed-loop” economy by recovering polypropylene from the bumper & wheel arch coverings to manufacture new plastic car parts. In June of 2018, Ford announced that every vehicle its manufacturers would contain 250 bottles of recycled plastic.
As of 2015, cars were made up of 17% plastics, 12% polymers, & 5% elastomers. If the auto industry is to become more sustainable, we need to understand this sector and commit to technological innovations.
Is your car Recyclable?
Curious if your car is recyclable? Recycling of automobiles is incredibly complex due to the many different materials that make up a vehicle, and all vehicles are different based on manufacturers specifications. That being said, most auto parts are easily recyclable and can be reused in other vehicles right off the bat. Some immediately recyclable parts are engines, transmissions, and sheet metal. And then you have plastic parts such as bumpers & interior trim. These can be recycled into new parts. More difficult to recycle would be tires, batteries and oil filters. Although these can be recycled, in many cases they need to go to special recycling facilities specifically set up for that type of recycling. The remaining metal on the automobile is disassembles and melted for use in other products. It’s important that oil and batteries be removed prior to recycling to properly protect the environment.
Approximately 2 million vehicles are recycled in the US each year. Of course, there are drawbacks to recycling automobiles, such as lead, mercury, & oil contamination. Air and Water pollution are also factors.
Advantages of Recycling Vehicles
There are tremendous benefits to recycling automobiles. To start with, scrap recycling industry generated billions of dollars each year and support over 85,000 jobs. The US also exports tons of scrap metals, called scrap commodities, which contributes significantly to US trade balances. According to Treehugger.com[ii], in 2012 the US exported $3 billion worth of aluminum, $4 billion of copper and $7.5 billion of iron and steel.
Recycling scrap metal also reduces a lot of greenhouse gas emissions produced during processing operations used when making metal from virgin ore. There are also substantial energy savings using various recycled metals compared to virgin ore. Metal recycling also conserves natural resources. Recycling 1 ton of steel conserves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. Water is also used in great quantities in the manufacturing of many metals.
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[i] Lilian Lancen, Recycling Plastic from Cars, Recycling Plastic From Cars: Benefits To The Environment - Climate Of Our Future
[ii] Larry West, The Benefits of Metal Recycling, What Are the Benefits of Recycling Metal (treehugger.com), updated 2/20/2019