What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “recycling”? Is it separating cans and bottles from trash, or making sure that paper and cardboard ends up in the correct bin?
While all of these recycling methods are certainly important in the elimination of waste from the environment, we may be forgetting that a crucial item that most of us use in our everyday lives can also be recycled: cars.
Each year, more than 25 million vehicles reach the end of their usable lifespans, and in the United States, more than 95% of these vehicles enter a recycling process.
When discussing vehicle recycling, we must acknowledge that the most eco-friendly option in regards to transportation is not having or using a car at all, if the infrastructure in your area allows for that to be a feasible option. Additionally, utilizing available public transportation and alternate forms of transportation does less harm to the environment, and can be a great way to get around! A report by the UN Environment Programme outlines why means of transportation such as biking, which is a main form of transit in many European countries, can be so beneficial to the health and preservation of our world.
What IS vehicle recycling?
The definition of vehicle recycling is “…the dismantling of vehicles for spare parts. At the end of their useful life, vehicles have value as a source of spare parts, and this has created a vehicle dismantling industry.” Vehicles can be recycled, just as they are able to be reused when people choose to purchase pre-owned vehicles. It is possible to recycle up to 75% of a vehicle, by reusing parts for cars that are still on the road or melting down materials for cars that are yet to be manufactured!
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services states that the auto recycling business is over 75 years old, and that it has “…evolved into a sophisticated market and technology-driven industry.” The vehicle recycling industry is constantly changing to respond to innovations in automotive technology and manufacturing.
How are vehicles recycled?
You may be wondering, “how are these cars being recycled?” Vehicles and spare parts certainly aren’t just tossed into a separate bin; there are methods to make the most out of each recycled car part, so that minimal waste is produced when the process is finished.
Most commonly, parts of the vehicle such as airbags, tires, seats, bumpers, mirrors, and rims are removed and can be transformed into other usable parts. Who knew that things such as garden beds, playground elements, sandals, shoes, and turf can all be made from recycled wheels and tires?
Cars are also scrapped for metal, which can then be used to create new goods and products.
Spare metals that are stripped from vehicles can eventually become bicycles, lighting fixtures, packaging, and even a new car.
Why is vehicle recycling important?
I had the opportunity to get into contact with SellMax one of the largest junk car buyers, who managed to give me useful information regarding the car recycling industry. I discovered that vehicle recycling is the 16th largest industry in the United States, contributing $25 billion per year to the national GDP. Additionally, 12 million cars are recycled per year in the United States, making cars the most recycled item in the country. Car recycling also saves about 85 billion barrels of oil per year, which reduces the need for oil drilling.
Recycling is extremely important to the wellbeing of our environment, as it promotes sustainability. For an activity to be considered “sustainable”, it must be economically attractive, environmentally friendly, and provide a beneficial service to society in a safe and responsible manner. Vehicle recycling embodies all of these elements and attempts to reverse some of the damages done by the automotive industry, which is a major user of natural resources and a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. The recycling of materials used in the automotive industry is essential to the sustainability of the automotive industry, and the preservation of our fragile environment.
How can I participate in this industry?
As an industry, automobile recycling is integral in preserving energy by limiting fossil fuel use and preserving natural resources. When all is said and done, we know that vehicle recycling uses less energy, saves fuel, and preserves materials. So how can you get involved? It really comes down to changing your mindset and beginning to incorporate recycling into your thinking when it comes to purchasing cars.
The average American owns 12 cars in his or her lifetime. Car manufacturers, environmentalists, and wrecking yards are constantly encouraging the public to really think about the entire lifespan of a consumer’s vehicle upon purchasing it, allowing for an eco-friendly plan for the vehicle once it reaches the end of its usable life.
Vehicle recycling is not only good for the environment overall, but it is good for consumers too.
By having old cars recycled, manufacturers can source the materials and re-refine them into new products. This industry serves an important purpose, and as a consumer, you have the ability to make decisions in your everyday life that ultimately benefit the environment. So, the next time your car reaches the end of its life, just as you separate your cans from your trash, consider recycling it!
Carmen is a master’s student at SDSU. She’s been environmentally conscious since a young age, and takes pride in educating individuals on underserved aspects of recycling. During her free time she runs and likes to enjoy nature.