The vehicle that you are driving today will be a source of numerous recyclable materials tomorrow. Vehicle parts offer recycling opportunities for materials such as steel, aluminum, plastics, antifreeze, and batteries, as well as whole parts such as tires, seats, engines, and alternators.
Just the Facts
- Each year, nearly all of the 27 million cars around the world that reach the end of their useful life are recovered for recycling.
- Automotive recyclers now can recover nearly 80 percent of the total materials by weight from a vehicle, according to the United States Council on Automotive Research (USCAR) an organization of auto manufacturers that work together on shared technological and environmental concerns.
- The remaining 20 percent of vehicle materials that cannot be recycled is called auto shredder residue (ASR). ASR includes plastics, rubber, wood, paper, fabric, glass, sand, dirt, and ferrous and nonferrous metal pieces.
- Five million tons of ASR are disposed of in landfills each year.
- Consumers purchasing used or reconditioned parts save 50 percent or more compared to the cost of purchasing new parts.
- More than 25 million tons of materials are recycled from vehicles each year. Automotive recycling is generally calculated separately from the MSW recycling rate.
- Nearly 90 percent of automotive aluminum is recovered and recycled. Although this aluminum represents less than 10 percent of the average motor vehicle by weight, it accounts for roughly half of the vehicles value as scrap.
- Auto recyclers supply more than one-third of all ferrous scrap (iron and steel) to the US scrap processing industry. When manufacturers use scrap iron and steel instead of virgin ore, they reduce air and water pollution by more than half during the manufacturing process.
More Automobile Information
The United States Council for Automotive Research is the umbrella organization of Daimler Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. Formed in 1992, its mission is to strengthen the technology base of the domestic auto industry through cooperative research.
The Automotive Recyclers Association is an international trade association that represents the auto recycling industry. It is a source of information on the removal and reuse of automotive parts and disposal of inoperable motor vehicles.
The International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies is an international organization representing automotive engineers and automotive societies.
The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) , a unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute, provides information on recycling for all steel products.
Recycling Automotive Parts
Cars are recycled in four steps: dismantling, crushing, shredding, and resource recovery. In the dismantling stage, processors recover the fluids and take apart the usable parts and components. These include batteries, wheels and tires, steering columns, fenders, radios, engines, starters, transmissions, alternators, select plastic parts and components, glass, foams, catalytic convertors, and other components, based on aftermarket demand. The processor then crushes the vehicle and loads it onto the vehicle shredder. The shredder grinds the vehicle into fist-sized pieces, which are then separated into ferrous and non-ferrous (aluminum) metals, as well as ASR. After separation, the recovered metals are remelted at the mills, and the ASR is landfilled.
Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) might be a valuable tool for striking a balance between recycling and other environmental priorities in automotive parts design. Researchers worldwide now are actively developing LCA and considering global standardization and regional differences.
Scientists are developing highly advanced technologies, which will allow more effective recovery of the materials currently not reused from end-of-life vehicles. Such advancements include infrared polymer identification; automated, high-speed materials identification (for plastics, aluminum alloys etc); feedstock recycling; and paint removal/treatment.