Ready for some good news? Very little of the millions of cars that this country scraps every year goes into landfills. This is because there are robust industries all over the country whose sole purpose is extract value from junked automobiles. Here are the statistics from the EPA: each year some 12-15 million cars are disposed of in the US and 95% of those cars go to one of the 9000 automobile recycling plants currently in operation. Each car is stripped of its valuable parts and, when all is said and done, over 80% of each car gets recycled. Here’s how it works:

Metals
The most valuable part of a scrapped automobile is the metal. Steel, iron and other metals comprise about 65 percent of the average car. The metal parts, such as the body, wheels, engine and drive train are ground onto small chucks and the ferrous portions are magnetically separated from the rest of the scrap. This is typically done at a scrap processing plant and the extracted material is then sold to steel mills. Interestingly, not all of the recycled metal goes back into cars. With construction exploding in rapidly developing countries like China and India, scrap metal traders are snatching up all the metals they can to make iron beams and other construction materials.

Batteries
Today, over 70 percent of all the lead used in the U.S. is in lead-acid car batteries. It’s been known for years that lead is extremely toxic (remember lead paint?) so recycling systems have been in place for decades. Battery recycling plants actually test used batteries and find that a surprising number can be reconditioned. The rest of the junk batteries are shredded and the lead is chemically extracted. After processing, most of the lead is used to product more batteries!

Tires
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 300 million tires are discarded in the U.S. each year. That’s an enormous number but the good news is that we reuse 86 percent of those tires. If the basic structure of the tire is solid, many scrap tires are still retreaded. At special processing plants, the rubber from the junk tires is shredded into small pieces and gets used in pavement, asphalt, cushioned running tracks and other surfaces. And some junk tires are actually used as fuel to power cement kilns, boilers and paper mills.

Engine Oil
As you might imagine, the United States discards a lot of oil every year. In fact, the EPA estimates that our yearly discard rate is a whopping 800 million gallons. That is enough oil to completely fill a covered football stadium all the way to the roof. At Suburban of Ann Arbor, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Ann Arbor, MI, the service department estimates they recycle several thousand gallons of used oil alone. Fortunately, there is a robust industry that recycles oils and puts it back into service.

What Isn’t Recycled?
Unfortunately, glass isn’t recycled. The problem is that windows in a car aren’t just glass. Windshields have a laminate sandwiched in between 2 layers of clear glass and side windows usually contain difficult to separate tints and other substances. Unfortunately, automotive glass is one of the few major substances that does go to the landfill.

What remains

According to the EPA, of the 12 million tons of automotive materials that are recycled each year, about 20 percent of the “shredder residue” still goes into landfills.

Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.