New Study Quantifies Benefits of Car Recycling

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The United Recyclers Group (URG) attempted to measure the impact of automobile recycling in a new study, focusing on the energy and resource savings of reusing and recycling parts such as steel fenders and wheels.

Prepared by the University of Colorado’s Environmental Engineering Department, the study’s findings were based on the estimation that 11 million vehicles are retired every year. The report also found:

Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Recycling cars sends between 3 and 4.5 million tons of shredder residue to landfills every year. This material includes everything from plastic to glass to rubber. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

  • Recycling just steel fenders saves more than 8 million tons of raw material (mostly iron and coal) that would be used to make new steel.
  • Aluminum wheel recycling would save 1.71 billion kilowatt hours of energy that would be needed to make new wheels from virgin aluminum.
  • Auto recycling extracts 24 million gallons of motor oil a year, which is reprocessed to keep it out of landfills.

All three materials are commonly removed during the auto scrapping process, with steel and aluminum sold off as scrap metal. But car recycling also landfills about 25 percent of the average car by weight, which includes other recyclable material such as glass, plastic and rubber.

The CU study did not take into account the impact of Cash for Clunkers, which had some auto recyclers receiving 10 times the supply of cars because of a government incentive to trade-in old cars for recycling.

“Thanks to our auto recycling industry, the brakes are being tapped on climate change,” said Michelle Alexander, URG executive director. “Energy consumption is being reduced; less material is being mined, refined and used; many forms of pollution are lowered; and the carbon footprint for the whole auto industry is being reduced.”

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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