What is currently the most recycled product in the world? Think it is aluminum cans? Wrong, it is cars and car parts, especially the battery.
In the United States, 95 percent of cars retired from use are recycled, that is about 12 million cars a year. With about eight million cars a year recycled in Europe and a total of about 27 million cars a year recycled worldwide, it is easy to see that auto recycling is a large industry. Approximately 80 percent of a car is recyclable, and many parts removed during repair or replacement are also sent to recyclers. Some parts are refurbished, some recycled parts become materials used to build new cars, and some recycled parts become materials used in other products. Auto recycling has many benefits, including giving owners a reason to sell their junk cars rather than leaving them sit in their yard, in a parking lot, or along the road.
What Car Parts Are Recycled and How Are the Parts Used?
When a junk yard receives a car, they check to see if it can be repaired and sold. This is possible only about 10 percent of the time. Otherwise, fluids are drained with hazardous liquids being disposed of properly. Gasoline and motor oil just need to be filtered, and then they can be re-used. Engine and transmission parts are cleaned and examined. Some parts are good enough to be sold “as is”, but other parts are sold for refurbishing to re-manufacturers. These parts can be 20 to 80 percent cheaper than new parts. Many times, if someone needs a part for their car, they can call a junkyard and see if the junkyard has a compatible car with the needed part in good condition. Tires, batteries, windshield glass, transmissions, radiators, catalytic converters, oil filters, belts, rubber hoses, seats, carpeting, mats, wheels, and, of course, any steel, iron, and aluminum parts are all recyclable. While aluminum is not even 10 percent of the car’s weight, 90 percent of the car’s recycled aluminum accounts for 50 percent of it’s scrap value. Auto recycling accounts for 25 million tons of recycled materials annually.
Batteries are the most recycled car part. In the United States, 99 percent of the approximately 100 million replaced every year are recycled. Of course, the lead and the plastic case are recycled, but sodium sulfate, used in dyes and fertilizers, can be made from the electrolytes, especially sulfuric acid. Even the new lithium batteries on electric cars have recycling potential. At 70 percent capacity, an electric battery may not have enough power for an electric car, but it can be used to store energy from wind turbines and solar panels. Furthermore, the nickel can be removed from these batteries and used to make new lithium batteries.
The recycling rate for over 220 million tires discarded annually is 80 percent. Tire-derived fuel (TDF) uses about 130 million tires annually. Recycled tires are also used for sandals and roadways and more uses are being researched.
The plastic layers on windshield safety glass are separated and used in many products. Countertops, tile flooring, porcelain, glass beads, and jewelry are made from the glass. Producing new glass uses 10 gallons more oil than recycling a ton of glass.
What are the Benefits of Auto Recycling?
Auto recycling makes the United States less dependent on foreign oil. Auto recycling in North America reduces the need to make more new or replacement auto parts, saving 85 million barrels of oil annually. With over three billion quarts of oil used annually in the United States, recycling that oil into new oil, other lubricants, or using it to generate electricity could further reduce dependence on foreign oil. Eight times as much oil and hazardous fluids are being reclaimed annually as the Exxon Valdez spilled, but annually, there are still about two hundred million gallons of improperly disposed used oil. Two and a half quarts of new oil can be produced with 42 gallons of crude oil or just one gallon of used oil, and powering the average home for one day can be done with two gallons of recycled oil. From the recycled metals, the auto recycling industry supplies 14 million tons of recycled steel annually. This is enough steel to produce 14 million new vehicles. That recycled steel accounts for 25 percent of a car’s body. The scrap processing industry receives about 40 percent of ferrous metal from auto recycling, and smelters and blast furnaces receive about 37 percent of their ferrous metal from auto recycling. Finally, the auto recycling industry handles and disposes of all materials in a safe manner with an industry-wide $50 million spent on environmental compliance.
What Does the Auto Recycling Business Model Look Like?
Auto recycling is a big industry with one surprise. It has been around for about 75 years and is the 16th largest industry in the United States with annual earnings of about $25 billion. With about 7,000 auto recycling businesses in the United States, employing about 100,000 people, it is mostly comprised of small businesses with about 10 employees each.