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Environmental Reasons to Recycle Your Car

Updated on September 7, 2014

Why Recycle A Car

It might be time to let go of your 1992 Ford Mustang. While its maintenance fees are getting high, the car is taking you nowhere.

Instead of driving it to the local dump, or a landfill, why not take it to a car recycling center?

The environmental reasons for recycling cars abound. Firstly, burying a car in a regular landfill is highly dangerous. Secondly, lots can be salvaged from an old car. Thirdly, salvaging materials is more environmentally friendly than acquiring brand new materials.

Leaking Car Battery
Leaking Car Battery

An Old Car Can Be Dangerous To The Environment

How can an old car be dangerous?

Consider the conventional car battery. The battery comprises of a plastic and lead shell, with sulfuric acid inside. Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues of the body.

Eventually, lead exposure results in death.

Sulfuric acid is not pleasant either. Highly acidic, it burns through most materials with ease. Cloth, plastic, metal, skin, flesh, boneā€”all forms of life are threatened by sulfuric acid (with the exception of cockroaches, who swim happily in the acid).

In addition to its battery, an old car contains motor oil and gasoline residue. These petroleum products easily render the surrounding soil infertile. When an old car is simply buried at the landfill, lives of plants and animals are jeopardized.

What can be salvaged from a car?

Recycling plants routinely salvage 75% to 100% of a car's mass. Since the early 21st century, automakers have begun a trend of increasingly recyclable cars. For instance, Ford makes cars that are at least 85% recyclable. Japanese hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, are completely recyclable.

The importance of recycling is two-fold: one, it decreases the amount of garbage; two, it increases the amount of raw material. Garbage disposal is a pressing issue in the modern world. We are running out of space to bury our garbage. Recycling became the solution to buy us more time.

A common misconception is that recycling is less economic than simply acquiring brand new material. Perhaps the economic loss is true for some materials, but for cars, recycling is a profitable enterprise.

Why else would someone open a car recycling business?

Why else would someone pay for used car batteries?

In fact, not only does car recycling result in economic gain, it also results in environmental gain. Did you know that manufacturing a product from scrap metal uses 26% less energy than manufacturing the item from new metal?

If we compare the mining and recycling processes, we understand why. Scrap metal simply needs to be melted, then reformed. Mining, however, is arduous and time-consuming. First geologists must scout for an appropriate mine. Ore is dug up from the ground. It is transported to a factory, where it undergoes extensive purification.

Not only does mining consume vast amounts of energy, it also ravages the local ecosystem. Imagine finding an ore underneath a forest. The trees will be uprooted and chopped down, to clear the way for digging.

Animals that depended on the trees will die.

The effect of mining on the local environment is very harmful. For this reason, car recycling is far more environmentally friendly.

Cars Dumped in Landfill
Cars Dumped in Landfill

Frontiers In Car Recycling

When a car is recycled today, 75% of its mass will become reusable.

For the average car, the reusable materials total 1500kg.

Metals, plastics, and rubber can all be sold at reasonable prices, and be used to make new products.

Before car recycling existed, cars were simply dumped into the landfill, like any other type of garbage.

Not only were landfills piling up, nothing was being salvaged.

We look back on those days with dismay and shame, at the sheer waste.

A salvage rate of 75% is amazing. However, governments hope for more. In Japan, for instance, auto manufacturers must construct their cars so that 90% of their mass can be recycled. By 2015, the Japanese government hopes to recycle 95% of all cars.

Similarly, Ford, one of the largest car makers in the world, allows for a 85% salvage rate.

What technologies are they exploring to do this?

Japanese researchers are taking current procedures to its next level. Presently, the car is fed through an industrial shredder. When it has been pulverized, useful materials such as iron and copper are extracted. The rest is buried in a landfill.

However, researchers are now turning the previously unusable dust into fuel. The leftover materials are fed through an even finer shredder. The fine power is then heated, then allowed to cool. A dense solid is formed. This solid is treated with various reactants, to produce a combustible gas.

Mazda, also from the Japanese, have developed a more efficient way to recycle bumpers. Previously, much of the recycling had to be done by hand. Workers had to manually separate the metal bits from the plastic. Not only is human labor time-consuming, it is also expensive.

Mazda comes to the rescue with its automated recycling system. Bumpers, with all the metal bits still on, are thrown into a machine to be shredded. Pressurized air is injected into the chamber, to separate metal from plastic. The process is similar to that used to separate different parts of grain.

In addition to the new technology's ability to separate metal from plastic, it is also recognized for its ability to sort plastic from paint. Every make and model uses slightly different plastics and paints to form its bumper. In the past this has been problematic, because workers needed to examine each bumper to determine which machine to use.

With Mazda's new system, workers no longer have to manually separate bumpers into different types. All bumpers can be recycled together. The new machine kneads the plastics. It is as if the plastic is a ball of dough. Force, applied in such a fashion, strips paint away.

With these technological breakthroughs, car recycling will become cheaper, faster, and more efficient.

Everyday, recycling technology continues to advance. Soon, cars will become 100% recyclable. This means future cars will never have to draw on virgin resources again.

Imagine the forests that will be saved, and the ecosystems that will thrive, if no one mined for iron. In the mean time, let's continue our research, and let's recycle our cars.

Recycling Car Batteries
Recycling Car Batteries

Recycling Car Batteries

Batteries, used or new, should never be thrown into the garbage.

They contain toxic substances that can seriously harm others and the environment.

For this reason, batteries must be taken to special recycling depots. Similarly, when scrapping your car, its battery needs proper handling as well.

Most car batteries contain sulfuric acid. The substance is one of the most caustic acids known.

When placed in contact with skin, sulfuric acid causes severe chemical burns.

If sulfuric acid contaminates the surrounding ecosystem, the consequences will be disastrous.

Car batteries also contain lead, a deadly neurotoxin. The Romans were famous for their public baths. Perhaps less well-known, the public baths eventually killed them.

Lead, a toxic metal, lined their aqua ducts, and contaminated the water. The poison accumulated in their soft tissues, until it killed them.

Lead's poisonous effects are not limited to human beings. The neurotoxin can accumulate in animals as well, leading to the death of an ecosystem.

But if my car battery is all used up, it should be fine, right? No.

Even a dead car battery still contains a gallon of sulfuric acid and 20 pounds of lead. This is why you need to take your car to a proper recycling centre, so the lead and sulfuric acid can be appropriately disposed of.

Not only do car batteries contain harmful substances, it also contains a very useful material: plastic. A dead battery comprises of three pounds of plastic. With current technology, plastic is readily recyclable. Why throw it away? Three pounds of plastic can make 24 new drinking cups.

What will they do with the sulfuric acid and the lead?

The sulfuric acid will be collected and purified. Then, it can be reused for another purpose. It can go to the production of a new car battery. It can also be sold to school laboratories, for science class.

Along the same vein, the lead is reclaimed and purified. The lead can then go to the manufacture of a new car battery, the construction of a new building, or a variety of other purposes. In the United States, 97% of the lead from car batteries is reused. The high reclamation rate is encouraging.

Several states and provinces in North America have implemented a policy to encourage car battery recycling. When you purchase a new car battery, you must pay a deposit fee. The deposit fee is returned to you when you bring back the battery. This way, you have an incentive to safely recycle your car battery.

Finding places that accept used car batteries is not difficult. The store that sold you the battery usually will take it back.

In fact, your local laws may require the store to accept the used battery. Car recycling centers will also know how to dispose of a used car battery.

More good news: many recycling centers and businesses are willing to pay for your old car batteries. The sulfuric acid, plastic and lead can all sell at reasonable prices. Car battery recycling is a lucrative business! Recycling car batteries is not only important, but it's so easy.

So don't leave it by the curb. Recycle it!

Car Seat Recycling
Car Seat Recycling

Car Seat Recycling

When your child outgrows his car seat, what do you do with it? Can you sell it?

Legally, it may not be a good idea.

Car seats have an expiration date, and are not safe to use after that expiration date.

The expiration date is usually 6 years from the time of manufacture.

You should be able to find the date on the bottom of the seat.

If you shouldn't sell your child's car seat, do you trash it? You can, but there is a better option: recycling.

Did you know that 90% of the mass of that car seat can be reused? The figure is not surprising, as much of the seat is made of hard plastic. As we know, plastic recycles very well.

In addition to plastic, car seats also contain Styrofoam, nylon, cloth, and metal. All of these materials can be recycled and reused. The Styrofoam can be made into packing peanuts or cups.

The nylon can be used for grocery bags or clothing. Metal can be melted and remolded.

The possibilities for reuse are endless. If the car seat can be used to make something else, why let it take up space in a landfill?

Until recently, car seat recycling was unheard of. Recycling centers for car seats did not exist. However, we have become more and more environmentally aware. Now, many states organize regular car seat recycling drives.

The oldest and biggest car seat recycling drive was begun by Colorado Children's Automobile Safety Foundation, in 2002. Since then, the CCASF has held a car seat recycling drive every year.

Every time, the event has grown ever more popular. For more information, email the event's founder, Bill Flinchbaugh, at bill@ccasf.org.

In 2008, Park City, Utah held their first annual car seat recycling drive. Families with grown-up children arrived with many car seats in hand. Volunteers enthusiastically disassembled the seats into their various components.

For more information about the Utah car seat drive, visit recycleutah.org.

If you live in Portland, Oregon, you are in luck as well. Legacy Health System, a company composed of hospitals and other healthcare clinics, regularly hold car seat check-up events. Bring your car seat to these events, and have a worker examine it. He or she will be able to tell you whether it is still safe to use. If it's unsafe, leave it. They'll recycle it.

If you are unable to make it to these events, Legacy Health System also has drop-off locations. These locations are open everyday, anytime.

To find out the locations of the drop-offs, visit legacyhealth.org.

You can also email their Sustainability Coordinator at tbadrick@lhs.org.

These car seat recycling events are only a couple of examples. Search on the internet for car seat drives in your area. If no car seat recycling programs exist in your city, why not start one yourself?

Car Heaven
Car Heaven

Have You Ever Heard Of Car Heaven

Your Jeep has been with you for six years, but you know it is time to let her go.

Not only is she battered and old, she is also polluting the air.

As an environmentally conscious citizen, you are worried about global warming and increasing rates of asthma among our children.

You are committed to disposing of your beloved Jeep. However, the sentimentality is there. You don't want to abandon her at some garbage dump. Instead, you seek a more humane option.

Why not send her to Car Heaven?

Car Heaven is a not-for-profit organization, created by a charity called the Clean Air Foundation.

Car Heaven is committed to recycling old cars, to make their parts reusable, and to safely dispose of dangerous chemicals.

Its other chief purpose is to raise awareness about driving and clean air.

Since its inception in 2000, Car Heaven has been a huge success. It has recycled 89,115 vehicles, prevented the emission of 46,072 tons of carbon monoxide, and 4,794 tons of smog-forming chemicals.

Over $3 million have been raised for environmentally focused charities. Perhaps most importantly, it has prevented the creation of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases.

The program has received much media attention. For instance, the Montreal Gazette encouraged its readers to send their cars to this "accelerated vehicle retirement program". The CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) lavished Car Heaven with praise.

If you live in any of Canada's seven provinces, with the exception of Alberta, you are eligible to recycle your car with Car Heaven. Simply log onto carheaven.ca, and click on Donate a Vehicle. Choose your province of residence, and you will be taken an online application form.

After completing the application form, print it out for your records. Find your Ownership Permit, and fill in the Application for Transfer section. Indicate that you wish to transfer ownership of your vehicle to Car Heaven. Do not forget to record the current odometer reading.

Within the next two weeks, you should expect a call from the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association. They will arrange a time with you, to pick up your old vehicle.

Once your vehicle is taken to Car Heaven, rest assured that it will be recycled. Reusable materials such as plastics and metals will be resold, to make new products. Dangerous chemicals such as battery acid will receive appropriate treatments, to render them harmless and disposable.

In addition to environmental and health benefits, what are other benefits of recycling your old vehicle?

For one, you will receive a tax receipt for at least $60. Additionally, by replacing your old car with a more fuel-efficient model, you save money on gas.

Depending on your province and possibly the make and model of your vehicle, you could be eligible for other perks too.

Car Heaven gives out discounted membership to car pooling programs, free public transportation passes, discounts on bicycles, or discounts on a new GM vehicle.

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