Recycle Car

December 9th, 2012

by guest writer, Mike J.

Cars hold a unique and prestigious importance in modern life. They enable us to travel vast distances by our own means, they make the world smaller and speed up our lives, and, are often symbols of our independence and even success. In the UK alone it is estimated there were 30 million cars on the road by the turn of this century. In America, despite an actual decline in car ownership in 2009, as noted in the Globe and Mail (“The size of the U.S. car fleet dropped by a hefty four million vehicles to 246 million” mainly due to rising fuel costs, poor access to credit and the global economic crisis), the love of the car is still strong. And even in emerging countries car ownership is growing. For instance by 2009 it is estimated China had 30 million cars.

Car-ownership statistics alone give a good indication why it is important to recycle car where possible. And indeed for the most part as we will see later, cars are generally recycled and recently many countries have been running ‘clunkers for cash’ schemes which have been very popular. In this article we will look pragmatically at the ways and reasons for recycling cars as well as help you gain some perspective on ‘cash for clunker’ schemes and general car management.

Some Basics

A lot of energy resources go into making cars, as reported by The Guardian: “the production of a typical modern car causes around 8 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to driving 23,000 miles,” based on estimates by an expert at the Stockholm Environmental Institute. As the Guardian further explains — if you scrap or recycle your car too early on in their lives you may actually waste more (CO2 producing) energy than if you carry on using an older vehicle. The consumer needs to play a careful balancing act — it might only be worth taking a car off the road if (apart from it not working) you “currently drive a lot in a highly inefficient car.”



For example, according to the UK’s national Department for Transport website, even the average company-car (which usually racks up higher mileage than privately owned vehicles) is only driven 19,990 miles a year. And as expected privately owned cars travel even less miles per year at 8,870 miles. For America, a 2003 report on the Federal Highway Administration website records the average annual mileage of an individual as 13,476 miles. So you can see that it takes a while for a car to earn its carbon-footprint-production costs. So before we even consider scrapping or recycling your car, we need to know how much ‘work’ it has done.

The other consideration here of course is the average amount of miles travelled measured against fuel used ie. fuel efficiency of your car. In America the individual average miles per gallon (mpg) hasn’t really changed that much since the turn of this century, as the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (R.I.T.A) report for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics demonstrates. Taken over a thirty year period from 1980, and despite a noticeable change in individual fuel efficiency between 1980 to 1990 (rising from 16.0 mpg to 20.3 mpg), individual fuel efficiency seems to have levelled out. Since 2000, the average American got 22.2 mpg, peaking at 22.5 mpg in 2004.

If we take America’s 2003 figure of an individual travelling 13,476 miles per year and divide that by the average (and actual mpg for 2003) 22.2 mpg, we can see that in 2003 the average American used 607 gallons of petrol. A figure which is near the more recent estimate on the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s website, which also outlines the amount of pollution created. This means that the average American’s annual car-fuel use approximates to around 5 tonnes a year (or generally across the world this figure transcends approximately to most motorists for every 12,500 miles for cars 10 years or younger).

I know, that’s quite a lot of numbers. What it means is that it usually takes a new car owner at least 2 years of use to equal its carbon production cost – at which time it could already be responsible for a possible total of around 18 tonnes of CO2 as a result of the car’s fuel use. And, that generally many average family cars produced in the last ten years will achieve a similar mpg. These are two important considerations that apply to any car scrappage scheme, or even for people buying second hand cars.

Car scrappage or ‘clunkers for cash.’

Several years ago in the UK as in America, the government provided funds towards a national car scrappage scheme. In the UK it allowed motorists to scrap their bangers for a new car with a £2000 subsidy. £1000 was provided by the government and the other £1000 by the car dealership. The BBC commented that an America scheme provided vouchers for up to $4,5000, to encourage American drivers to trade in their “gas-guzzling cars to exchange them for greener ones.” The trade-in car had to be achieving less than 18 mpg and still be drivable, and traded for a car that achieved 22mpg or above. And its success according to the Globe and Mail: “saw nearly 700,000 vehicles scrapped,” in the U.S alone. Both schemes have been renewed due to their success, and indeed similar examples can be seen across the world.

We all know that when we buy a car, it’s actual worth drops significantly, as such many people look to buy cars second hand, proving an efficient way to “recycle cars”. It allows the original owner to upgrade, but still keeps a perfectly working car on the road, at a more affordable amount for the second owner. Obviously to some extent car scrappage schemes may have had an impact on second hand car markets, as many cars would be worth less for resale than offered on a scrappage scheme. There has been some debate concerning car scrappage schemes in respect of actual carbon savings. This has been measured against the ratio of the new cars production costs, against, scrapping working but slightly more polluting cars.

In terms of their greenness car scrappage schemes seem to be doing some good, the fact that many have sensible conditions. In the UK a car needs to be older than 10 years old (and so possibly being produced outside of more modern cars lower mpg) and in America the stipulation that it must be a lower mpg enforces a consumer to buy a less polluting vehicle – it seems that long term will prove to be a good way to recycle cars.

In the end….

Car scrappage schemes and resale are our obvious options for upgrading our car, but what happens to the cars when they actually have reached the end of their useful ‘lives?’ A car, as I’m sure we can appreciate is a complex machine – it has many moving parts made up from many materials including steel (and other metals), plastic, glass, rubber, leather (sometimes even wood in luxury cars) to name a few.

In Europe the End-of-life-Vehicles (ELV) directive came into force on October 2000, obligating member states to meet its requirements by April 2002. One of it’s most important requirements being that all ELV’s are treated by authorised dismantlers to prevent the waste of resources and environmental contamination from certain materials such as left-over oil.

For instance as the UK Wasteonline website comments: “one litre of waste oil is sufficient to contaminate one million litres of water and oil poured onto the ground will affect soil fertility.” And that: “Waste oil from nearly 3 million car oil changes in Britain is not collected. If collected properly, this could meet the annual energy needs of 1.5 million people.” As 68 per cent of most modern cars are made from ferrous metals, and nearly 98 per cent of the whole car can be recycled, we can see why it is important that the correct people recycle cars.

Unfortunately the car turnover is very high. In the UK, 2 million cars are scrapped each year, as a further 2 million new cars drivers are registered. Although most materials are recyclable, managing the components of car waste is complicated with components such as batteries and tyres for instance which have been banned from EU landfill and require specific treatment to be re-used or safely disposed off. Fortunately your complications should end at the dismantlers, just check that they are legally required to do the work – check with your trading standards office.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 9th, 2012 at 4:08 pm and is filed under Developments in Green Technology, Recycling Resources. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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