What is Automotive Recycling?
Professional Automotive Recycling refers to the process of disassembling end-of-life vehicles in order to recover all ROE–Recycled Original Equipment® auto parts for reuse to repair vehicles still in operation. During the dismantling process, all fuel, fluids, batteries, catalytic converters, electronics, tires, and other parts are properly handled to reduce harm to the environment.
What is an End of Life Vehicle (ELV)?
There are over 285 million vehicles on U.S. roadways and every day, minute by minute, mile by mile these vehicles get nearer to the end of their useful life. When a vehicle gets to a point where its usefulness is largely expended due to age, mileage, condition, needs of repair or expense of maintenance the vehicle reaches its end-of-life point. In many cases significant damage to a transportation asset through collision or mechanical failure will bypass a timeline of normal deterioration and depreciation and create an ELV event.
Regardless of the mechanism, in all cases this day will come. The question then becomes, what is next for that vehicle? The good news is you have options – such as SHiFT™ for the Future.
Every ELV Event is a Critical Moment for the Environment.
When vehicles reach the end of their useful lives, they contain a variety of waste fluids, recyclable components, metals, hazardous materials, and potential landfill scrap. A critical set of decisions should be made to influence the best outcome for the planet. Here are some considerations:
Yes! Generally speaking, most gas-powered vehicles are 85-90 percent recyclable. An Automotive Recycler will first Reuse, then Recycle™ a dismantled vehicle. They are most often constructed with made out of approximately 75 percent metal materials, both ferrous and non-ferrous, and the remaining 25 percent of a vehicle’s weight comes from tires, fluids and other materials including glass, metal, plastic, fabric and rubber components. These fluids include used oil, antifreeze, lubricants and gasoline or diesel, which also can be reused. Finally, vehicles increasingly contain electronic components and converters that are laden with valuable heavy and precious metals. These, too, are returned to the supply chain for new electronics and metal products.
No. Auto Recycling is the Original Recycling Industry – the first to Reuse, then Recycle™ a consumer product. The Automotive Recycling industry has been operating for 100+ years in some form or fashion since the beginning of the mass production of the automobile, helping to keep repairable vehicles on the roads. As an industry it has become cleaner and more efficient each year. Professional Automotive Recyclers operate at the highest standards of state and federal environmental, safety and operational levels.
Professional Automotive Recycling refers to the process of disassembling end-of-life vehicles in order to recover all ROE–Recycled Original Equipment® auto parts for reuse to repair vehicles still in operation. During the dismantling process all fuel, fluids, batteries, catalytic converters, electronics, tires and other parts are properly handled to reduce harm to the environment. Some of these are used in recycling facilities for power or sold to third party recyclers for another use. Any remaining scrap metal on the hull of the vehicle is then processed by a scrap metals recycler for final crushing and shredding of the vehicle.
In the dismantling process, the proper handling and removal of fluids from an end-of-life vehicle is essential and differentiates a Professional Automotive Recycler who has taken extra measures to protect the environment from unlicensed and untrained rogue operators. Fluids refer to the battery, refrigerants, fuel, brake fluid, antifreeze, engine oil, power steering fluid, windshield washer fluid and transmission fluid. These fluids are collected, stored and disposed of based on state and/or federal guidelines. This ensures that these fluids do not contaminate soil or water.
A Professional Automotive Recycler has a clear purpose to reuse as much of a vehicle as possible. The reuse process reduces greenhouse gas emissions that would be used to make the same part, new. It also has proven to reduce the carbon footprint of the automotive industry on a whole. A salvage facility is interested in all metals – from household appliances to aluminum gutters and cans. They view the value of an automobile for its scrap metal. An Automotive Recycler may also have salvage and crushing capabilities, but ultimately all vehicles will be processed by a salvage shredding operation for sorting of materials. Third party buyers often purchase sorted fluff and metals for second-life products.
Here at SHiFT™ we truly believe in the power of this industry to make a measurable difference in terms of reducing carbon emissions. The sheer quantity of cars on U.S. roadways (see Auto Recycling Facts and Figures below) means that what we do with these vehicles is bound to have a large impact. Any reduction in the harm that automobiles innately cause throughout their life cycles is going to add up exponentially. We hope you see the value of Reuse, then Recycle™ of your end-of-life vehicle.
Professional Automotive Recycling
Professional Automotive Recyclers deliver high-quality, low-cost Recycled Original Equipment® (ROE) auto parts, expertly harvested from end-of-life vehicles and provided to collision and mechanical repair professionals as an integral part of the automotive repair process. Simply put, ROE® auto parts are harvested directly from vehicles made by the vehicle manufacturers. ROE® auto parts have been the trusted choice in vehicle repairs for over 100 years.
The process of Automotive Recycling begins with disassembling end-of-life vehicles in order to recover all ROE–Recycled Original Equipment® auto parts for reuse to repair vehicles still in operation. For over 100 years, ROE® auto parts have provided the consumer with:
- Value – Retail and wholesale customers can utilize these quality auto parts with the exact make and fit of the repair vehicle. ROE® auto parts cost 20 percent to 80 percent less than comparable new automobile parts.
- Quality — Professional auto recyclers use robust quality control procedures to reclaim and sell only those parts that are in good condition and meet industry standards.
- Environmental Stewardship — By choosing recycled auto parts, you help preserve natural resources, reduce air and water pollution, and divert material from landfills.
During the dismantling process, all fuel, fluids, batteries, catalytic converters, electronics, tires and other parts are properly handled to reduce harm to the environment. Some of these are used in recycling facilities for power or sold to third party recyclers for another use. Any remaining scrap metal on the hull of the vehicle is then processed by a scrap metals recycler for final crushing and shredding of the vehicle.
What Auto Recycling Can Provide
Components & Content that can be Repurposed, Recycled, Recovered, and Remanufactured.
140,000 Employment Opportunities
Over 4 Million Mercury Switches Collected, Keeping 9,000 lbs of Mercury Out of the Environment
With 12.6 million Vehicles Recycled Each Year, GHG Emissions are Reduced by Over 30 million Metric Tons Per Year
Less Landfill Usage by Salvage Vehicle Components
More than $32 Billion in Sales of Recycled Parts Annually
96% of all Lead Acid Batteries Collected & Reused
Auto Recycling Facts and Figures
Did you know that Automobiles are among the most recycled products in the world? ROE—Recycled Original Equipment® auto parts have been the trusted choice in vehicle repairs for over 100 years.
Automobiles in America
To understand Automotive Recycling one must first understand the role of automobiles in America. The two are deeply intertwined, for adoption of the automobile happened alongside the rebuilding of this country post-World War II and the subsequent construction of the interstate highway system. This moment marks when modern transportation transformed the way America worked, lived and ultimately thought. American life became built around the car and this trend has continued, full speed ahead, into the present-day.
America’s love affair with the automobile comes at a hefty price. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, emissions from transportation make up the largest portion (27%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and within this, cars play the starring-role. As of 2020, cars produce 83% of the transportation sector’s total emissions; this is compared to a mere 8% attributed to aircrafts.
Size and Scale of Automotive Recycling Industry
Like the industrious Americans we are, industry responds to opportunity. With so many cars on the road a secondary market for vehicles retired from U.S. roadways formed and has only grown in importance over time.
Today approximately 30 million cars are recycled annually worldwide. The U.S. accounts for nearly 12 million and Europe roughly 8 million.
The Automotive Recycling industry is the 16th largest industry in the United States in terms of GDP and employs more than 140,000 individuals.
Each year, automotive recycling in the U.S. and Canada provides a sufficient amount of steel to produce roughly 13 million new vehicles.
Europe, the U.S. and Japan are the largest ferrous scrap metal exporters in the world, holding a market share of over 33 percent. These countries are also the largest auto recyclers and hold over 70 percent of total auto recycling in the world.
Automotive Recycling Process
There are several key steps to the Automotive Recycling process, and while each facility may operate differently, these processes are critical to the efficient processing of end-of-life vehicles, as well as to upholding the state and federal regulations that dictate some of these outcomes.
- The first step of this process is nearly identical across all recyclers. Once a vehicle enters the secondary market, such as SHiFT™, they can travel down one of two pathways pending initial assessment: repair or disassembly. If a vehicle has a “salvage” title, the car must be dismantled for reuse and recycling, not repaired, and are usually acquired by Automotive Recyclers.
- Once the vehicle is at an Automotive Recycling facility, the recycling process will begin by draining the car’s fluids, otherwise known as the “depollution” process. While some fluids can be reprocessed into new fluids, this step is primarily for the safety of the steps to follow.
- Next, all auto parts that are deemed reusable – evaluated to be safely operational – will be removed for resale. This might include items such as the engine, steering columns, doors, hood, trunk, seats, head/taillights, batteries and tires. These parts are sold through a vibrant network of insurance companies, body shops, and mechanical shops to repair vehicles in need of these parts. They will save the consumer money to use recycled parts.
- Once the vehicle has all parts of value used, the Automotive Recycler sells the remaining “hull” to a metal salvage recycler to complete more in-depth recycling of the vehicle. The windshield and windows may go to a glass recycler, the tires to a rubber recycler, and the metal frame to recyclers with shredding capabilities.
- Before the vehicle can be shredded, all non-metal components must be removed, recyclable or not. Once this is complete, the vehicle will be put through the shredder and magnets will separate ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals.
- The metal will be sold to automakers, the steel industry and other manufacturers after additional processing, where it will be used in the production of new car frames.
Automotive Recyclers are responsible for returning the myriad of materials within cars back into raw materials for other purposes. Every material within a car requires a different process in order to be re-sold for reuse, recycled or scrapped. For this reason, different recycler vendors may specialize in particular materials and/or processes.
For example, tire recyclers will heat scrap tires to high temperatures (pyrolysis) to encourage decomposition, creating a raw material that companies can use as tire-derived fuel to power machinery. Other processes turn tires into small rubber pellets which will then be used to build new turf fields and tracks.
The processing of these vehicles generates an estimated $32 billion USD annually in the United States alone.
It is important to note that most Automotive Recyclers are small- and medium-sized businesses, with a significant amount operating as second- and third-generation family-owned operations. There are around 7,000 professional vehicle recycling facilities in the U.S. and more than 75% percent of them employ 10 people or less.
Ultimately, the consumer receives the economic benefits of using recycled auto parts. When possible, Auto Recyclers harvest used and usable parts from all types of vehicles and supply retail and wholesale customers with quality auto parts that cost 20-80 percent less than comparable new auto parts.
Here at SHiFT™ we believe the best sustainable solutions are those that make economic sense as well. Ultimately, Auto Recyclers have an economic incentive to repurpose as many parts of a car as possible to make the greatest ROI.
The bottom line for consumers: The use of a ROE® auto part is 50 percent less to their pocketbook than a new part in a repair – and is completely safe and effective as an auto part solution. Consumers can request these parts be used when repairing their vehicle.
The automobile is the most heavily recycled consumer good in the world.
Researchers are continually re-estimating the Automotive Recycling industry’s impact in terms of its reduction in emissions. For now, we can understand the environmental impact of the industry through namely four different categories [below]. For more on this please visit our Impact page.
Diverting hazardous waste from landfills/abandonment
A not so fun fact: Used oil from one oil change can contaminate one million gallons of fresh water — a year’s supply for 50 people! Clunker cars that sit in backyards will eventually leak oil; Auto Recyclers can prevent the harmful effects of oil spills by proper disposal and/or re-refining processes.
Another fact: Did you know glass takes one million years to decompose? Automotive Recyclers can repurpose windshields and door glass.
Recovery of materials for reuse/new uses
Every year, more than 14 million tons of recycled steel are derived from retired vehicles, to make over 8.5 million new vehicles. The average car today has around 25 percent of its body made from recycled steel.
On average, a person will own approximately twelve cars in his or her lifetime. This means that, at minimum, the average American will go through at least 48 tires in their life. Car tire recycling is well-established and the material is used to produce a variety of things from sandals to roadways.
Approximately 90 percent of the aluminum in a vehicle is recovered and recycled. Although the aluminum recovered from an old vehicle represents less than 10 percent of the vehicle by weight, it accounts for nearly 50 percent of the vehicle’s scrap value.
Prevention of the production of new materials
Every year, the North American Automotive Recycling industry saves around 85 million barrels of oil from being used in the manufacturing of new or replacement auto parts. Furthermore, approximately 99 percent of car batteries can be recycled, thereby preventing the need for a great deal of additional mining.
Removing high-emitting vehicles from the road
The Automotive Recyclers Association (www.a-r-a.org) reports that “Approximately 86 percent of a vehicle’s material content is recycled, reused or used for energy recovery.” The other side of this statistic is that 14 percent of a vehicle is not salvageable, and therefore becomes waste. When you consider the millions of cars coming off American roads each year, the quantity of material being trashed is staggering.
Lucky for us, the Auto Recycling industry is constantly innovating.
Future of Auto Recycling
There are constant efforts to devise new methods to more efficiently and effectively separate aggregate materials. Similarly, there are constant efforts to innovate new uses for these recovered materials.
The last year has shown exciting advancements in the glass recycling industry in particular. Academic research has formally declared that “an industrial scale and environmentally sustainable process for the recycling of ELV windshield glass has been developed”. Historically, glass recycling has posed difficult due to the thin sheet of plastic, or Polyvinyl Butyral (PVB), that is baked in between the two pieces of safety glass.
New procedures enable recyclers to separate these materials more easily. The PVB is reprocessed into pellets which can be used to make plastic products such as paint, shoes and floor mats for cars. The glass itself is used to make new bowls and bottles, produce fiberglass insulation, and mixed in with concrete to increase the material’s strength and durability.
The future of the Automotive Recycling industry more broadly is incredibly exciting. We are likely to see more standardized recycling procedures as car manufacturers begin to consider end of life recycling during vehicle design processes and production itself. This idea encourages a culture of ‘circular manufacturing’, whereby manufacturers find means to bring back materials into the economy instead of discarding them.
Going forward, Automotive Recyclers are being recognized as a critical piece to accomplishing a circular economy in the automotive industry; by safely handling the end of life of gas-powered and electric vehicles, recyclers hold the keys to a more sustainable planet.