The world’s airliners could fly nearly 100 million miles with the energy saved each year by reusing steel fenders instead of manufacturing them new, says a new study prepared for the United Recyclers Group (URG) by the University of Colorado (CU). The study quantifies the benefits of automotive reuse and recycling by the nation’s automotive recycling industry. The study specifically looked at reusing some common parts such as fenders and aluminum wheels, along with the reprocessing of motor oil extracted from ‘end-of-life’ (EOL) vehicles.
According to Michelle Alexander, URG Executive Director, “The CU study estimates that nearly 11 million vehicles are taken off the road in America each year when they reach their so called ‘End of Life’ (EOL). This process of attrition is caused by accidents and also occurs as vehicles age. There are tremendous quantifiable environmental and financial benefits for consumers that are provided by the green American automobile recycling industry as these vehicles are processed both for the reuse of certain parts (known as ‘green parts’) and recycling of most of the remainder.”
A big question remains: What to do with 11 million EOL vehicles each year? Richard Filley, Executive Director of the not-for-profit GreenCARR Foundation (www.greencarr.org) says that “America’s 6,000 plus auto recyclers, know exactly what to do and they have been doing it proudly and profitably for over a hundred years. With leadership from URG and the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), two not-for-profit trade organizations collectively representing over 2000 of the nation’s top automotive salvage companies, what could be a huge problem for this nation – dealing with a literal mountain of cars – is instead a huge asset to America’s efforts to go green.”
Michelle Alexander says that “Thanks to our auto recycling industry, the brakes are being tapped on climate change; energy consumption is being reduced; less material is being mined, refined and used; many forms of pollution are lowered; and the carbon footprint for the whole auto industry is being reduced.”
The study was launched when Alexander contacted Dr. Angela Bielefeldt, PE, an award-winning professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). Dr. Bielefeldt’s successes in incorporating service-learning projects into her senior level design capstone course, won her a prestigious ‘Early Career Award’ from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). The study was completed by a team of senior environmental engineering students comprised of Patrick Gere (lead), Tyler Sale, and Madeline Tyson.
John Fischl, president of Riteway Auto Parts (Phoenix, AZ), and a URG Manager says that “For a typical EOL vehicle, about 75% of the parts are salvaged for reuse, about 20% of the vehicle is recycled, and the remaining 5% is thrown away.” What that means, he adds is that an “EOL vehicle is one of the greenest products on the planet. Through the reuse of ‘green parts,’ vehicles may partly live on for years and years, at great environmental benefit to Planet Earth and important financial benefit to the consumer driving a vehicle needing repair parts.
Some highlights of the study’s major findings include the following:
The recycling of steel fenders each year in the United States saves the mining of over 5 million tons of iron ore, nearly 3 million tons of coal, and over 250,000 tons of limestone as compared to the manufacture of an equivalent number of new steel fenders.
The smelting of aluminum is very energy intensive, so it is no surprise that even more spectacular are the savings associated with the recycling of aluminum wheels. The study estimates that over 1.71 billion kilowatt hours of energy are saved annually when the aluminum needed to make enough wheel sets isn’t mined, isn’t smelted, and isn’t manufactured. The energy savings from not having to manufacture aluminum wheels alone would be enough to power Chattanooga, Tennessee or Panama City, Florida or the entire Big Island of Hawaii for an entire year. Another way to think about this is that the energy savings of the recycled aluminum are the equivalent of about 212 million gallons of gasoline, or over 11 million barrels of crude oil. This would fill up six oil supertankers, and equal the entire US output of oil (including offshore platforms) for a couple of days, or perhaps more importantly, keep America from needing to import oil from a place like Venezuela for 11 days.
End of Life vehicles are typically full of oil when they arrive at one of the automotive salvage facilities located across America for processing. The study estimates that over 24 million gallons of oil are extracted from EOL vehicles each year in the United States, under the strict regulatory oversight of federal, state and local environmental agencies and offices. Reprocessing motor oil is hugely beneficial to the environment, as compared to the process of exploring, drilling, and refining new oil. Over 3.1 million tons of CO2 emissions are saved in the process, an amount that could offset the entire CO2 output of the United States for 45 hours this year.
These statistics document the benefits and savings from just three part types from the vehicles that are taken out of service every year. The full benefit of recycling and reuse of the entire vehicle will provide much greater savings and environmental benefits than this preliminary study has revealed. An executive summary of the CU study is available on the URG website.
URG has taken the lead in creating new awareness and understanding of the modern green automotive recycling industry, including the preparation of the PowerPoint presentation, “Green, Lean, and Sustainable: The New Era of Automotive Recycling.” URG: Working together to improve and modernize the green automotive recycling industry. For more information, go to the United Recyclers Group website at www.u-r-g.com or call 303-367-4391.
For over 60 years the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) has represented an industry dedicated to the efficient removal and reuse of automotive parts, and the safe disposal of inoperable motor vehicles. ARA is the only trade association serving the automotive recycling industry in 12 countries internationally. For more information, go to the Automotive Recyclers Association website at www.a-r-a.org or call 888-385-1005.