The North American International Auto Show is shining the spotlight on new cars. But what should you do with an old car you can’t really re-sell? Before you contact the junk yard, consider this:
Manufacturing a car creates pollution you probably never thought about. Extracting and transporting the raw materials that go into components like seats and the steering wheel generates twenty-nine tons of solid waste and 1,207 million cubic yards of air emissions. In fact, while the majority of pollution is generated by driving, a third is incurred in car manufacture. Disposing of tires, lead-acid batteries, air conditioners, upholstery, and other materials adds to the trash pile, reports Katie Alvord in Divorce Your Car: Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile. (Photo credit)
Manufacturers are taking notice by increasing the amount of recycled materials they weave into new-car production:
* Ford Motor Company integrated recycled material into the cloth seating of the 2008 Escape. If it expanded the program, InterfaceFABRIC, the materials supplier, estimates that Ford could save at least sixty thousand gallons of water, 1.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents, and the equivalent of more than 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
* Mazda and Toyota recycled used bumpers to make components for new ones.
* Cadillac’s SRX uses 50 percent recycled tire rubber for its radiator side baffles, a process that in 2004 kept two thousand scrap tires out of landfills.
* Both Honda and Toyota recycle the battery packs in their hybrids to capture everything from the precious metals to the plastics and the wiring. Edmunds.com reports that Toyota even puts a phone number (for recycling information) on each battery and pays dealers two hundred dollars for each battery pack.
* Ten percent of the plastic in a new Mini Cooper consists of recycled material.
According to Ward’s Motor Vehicle Facts and Figures, at least 84 percent of an average car’s material content gets recycled; automotive recycling ranks as the sixteenth-largest industry in the United States. Recycling those vehicles provides enough steel to make nearly thirteen million cars, while also providing jobs for 46,000 people.
You can keep the cycle going:
Make sure to recycle your own motor oil. If you change the oil yourself, take it and the oil filter to a recycling center. If you have it changed, double-check that the service center recycles all used oil.
Have your tires changed at a shop that recycles them. Recycled rubber may become asphalt, playground material, athletic track, furniture, or apparel (like purses and jewelry).
Donate your car to a local non-profit. In my suburban Washington, D.C. community, organizations like Good Will and the local public radio affiliate will pick up your car for free and repair it or recycle the parts, giving you a tax benefit when you do. Habitat for Humanity does the same.
Close the loop. Remember that the best way to ensure that recycling works is to buy goods made from recycled materials. The soles of my Simple Shoes are made from recycled rubber tires. You can also find a variety of tools and garden gear made from recycled rubber, plastic and steel.