How Cars Are Recycled

I’ve never really thought about it, but apparently cars are the most recycled consumer item in the US. This must be by size, not number as they beat newspapers and cans with 15m vehicles recycled every year. On average 84% of a vehicle can be recycled, and whilst re-use is the first option, the amount a vehicle can be recycled is impressive.

The Vehicle Recycling Partnership is a program of the United States Council for Automotive Research – a consortium of Chrysler, Ford and GM. Founded in 1992, it is “dedicated to finding vehicle recycling solutions that are sustainable, are environmentally friendly and fit within the current recycling infrastructure”.

Vehicle Recycling Partnership

The remaining 16% that cannot be recycled is mainly foam, rubber, fabric and certain plastics. Some of this is reused, but most of it is waste. They also look at the lifecycle of components, such as the waste created producing parts and assembling them. New car technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries present new problems for the team to address, not only in manufacture, but at end-of-life disposal. Currently 95% of all car batteries on the market are recycled from old batteries.

I was also impressed that they look at the energy use during the recycling process. As one GM Technical Fellow from GM’s Chemical and Environmental Sciences Research and Development department put it to me “There’s no point spending 10 minutes washing a glass jar in hot water just in order to recycle it – let’s minimise the energy cost and maximise the benefit”.

Vehicle Recycling diagram

4 thoughts on “How Cars Are Recycled

  1. Awesome article. I must have missed it earlier. Good to know I have a green(er) option when my five-year-old car bites the dust, though hopefully that’s not for at least another five.


  2. Thanks Rachel, frankly it amazed me. Cars are a strange one – is it better to hang onto your old one, or get a newer more efficient one, but have the manufacturing environmental cost of that “added”?


  3. Make cars last longer! My European car cost a little more but outlast domestic ones almost two to one! Why can’t I get an American car to go more than five years? How much oil is saved if a car goes for one more year? I don’t need the ridiculous annual sheet metal changes either, Build it right in the first place, and quit screwing me over by making what I haven’t paid for yet, look old! The European models just don’t seem to age as fast, maybe that is what attracted me to them in the first place. I don’t want to be in syle as badly as I want to pay for the damn thing before it wears out!


  4. I’ve never owned an American car so can’t comment. I do know newer ones are supposedly a lot more reliable than they used to be. My old Italian Fiat did last 15 years though, passed down through the family.


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