Although automobiles are built to last longer than ever before, the reality is that all vehicles have a lifespan. In Canada, the lifetime average age of a typical vehicle is 15 years.
When a vehicle goes to a junk yard or a recycling facility, it marks the end of its life as a roadworthy car, truck, SUV, etc. It then takes on a sort of afterlife, where a majority of its parts and accessories are salvaged.
According to auto recycling statistics, up to 80 per cent of a vehicle is recycled, and the average new car contains about 25 per cent of its body from recycled steel. According to a popular website, “every year, the automobile recycling industry in the U.S.A. and Canada provides sufficient steel to produce roughly 13 million new vehicles.”
The mostly recycled parts of a vehicle are tires, wheels, car seats, carpets, oil filters, batteries, windshield glass, steel and iron, radios, radiators, airbags, catalytic converters, transmissions, and mats.
Some parts are used to make nonautomotive products. For instance, used car tires are used to make fuel, artificial turf, mulch for landscaping, and rubberized asphalt for roadways
Some parts are salvaged and sold for repairing other vehicles while some are sold directly to auto parts manufacturers, which are refurbished and sold to auto parts companies.
The automotive recycling industry isn’t perfect, but overall, it has demonstrated a great capacity to extend the lifespan for most of the items in a typical automobile, either through refurbishing and reselling parts, or crushing the metal frame for reuse in other cars.
Most major automakers have pledged to become more eco-friendly (using more recycled materials in their vehicles) and to change their manufacturing processes in an effort to reduce the amount of waste produced.
In 1998, the automaker that I represent, Honda, issued a corporate policy aimed at protecting and conserving the environment, and lowering the environmental impact of its activities. To this end, the company has designed more recyclability into all its products, while also striving to recycle and reuse materials within its manufacturing plants as much as possible.
Unfortunately, the same level of recycling efficiency does not apply to all industries. When computers, televisions, mobile phones, stereos and other electronic products become broken or obsolete, they are lumped into a category known as electronic waste, or e-waste.
Although 100 per cent of e-waste is technically recyclable, only a small percentage of it actually is. The United Nations reported that in 2014, only 16 per cent of global e-waste was recycled by companies or government agencies.
Recycling stats for e-waste represent a global tragedy and a tremendous opportunity for companies and governments that can figure out a way to recycle these discarded products.
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On a local level, failed recycling efforts are just as troublesome. I live in a rural area, and one of my pet peeves is that at home, I can’t include cardboard and Styrofoam food packaging in our recycling bin. I have to take these items to work to recycle them.
I regularly come across consumer products that are poorly packaged. In grocery stores, packaged fruits and vegetables represent a huge waste — most fruits and vegetables don’t need packaging!
Effective packaging can influence consumer buying decisions, but sometimes packaging can get out of hand. Kids’ dolls, plastic water bottles, flash drives, makeup products and small electronics products also contain packaging that is hugely disproportionate to the products inside, and difficult to recycle.
If you have a recycling story or comment about either the auto industry or another industry, I’ve love to hear it.
This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.