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”.
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”.