Can You Recycle Your Car?

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. 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.

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9 Responses to Can You Recycle Your Car?

  1. Hermine Lindsie May 2, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    It’s a huge deal when the car companies themselves do the recycling. Since car manufacturing consumes so much energy and resources, consequently, measures to tone things down can also save as much. And it’s good that we can do our own green ways, too! Thanks for the incredible suggestions, Diane. 🙂

  2. plumbing February 11, 2012 at 8:23 am #

    Automobiles are the most recycled product in the U.S. It is very easy to recycle an end-of-life vehicle (ELV). Many businesses will pay you a small sum to take your vehicle; sometimes they will tow it from your property for free.

  3. Plumbing March 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    I didn’t realize that even the raw materials of cars could produce such a large amount of solid waste and harmful air emissions! Also, InterfaceFABRIC Ford could save 7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually! That’s just great!
    Thanks for sharing all these information, it is indeed useful.

  4. Blaine Smitley January 6, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    The dealership I work at sends a couple trade ins a week to be recycled. With the economy down, people are squeezing every last mile out of their cars as possible, and by the time some of them are traded in, theirs just no life left in them.
    Most of them have over 200,000 miles on them and we have a local company that pays us $190.00 per ton to come and pick them up, or 210 per ton if we deliver them to them, after which the scrap them out. We could probably get more if we parted them out, but we just don’t have time.
    For instance just the platinum, palladium and rhodium from a single catalytic converter makes it worth between $20.00 to $100.00 to a scrap dealer. The lead in a battery? The rubber from the tires? The Glass from the windows? All the aluminum and steel?
    Flat out? There’s a lot of valuable material in an old car, for recycling purposes. The list goes on and on.

  5. Diane MacEachern January 17, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks for the info on car recycling. I’ve heard that around 80 or 85% of old cars are recycled. That’s pretty impressive!

  6. Brian Lee June 10, 2015 at 3:05 am #

    Recycling is a very good process and should be encouraged. Companies like this one should encourage the recycling of cars, by coming up with good deals for their customers. Cars have many parts that need to be recycled separately. There are always some parts that cannot be recycled and they go straight to waste, but all this is possible after you have made a decision on the recycling of the rust gathering piece of metal lying in your backyard or front lawn.

    • Diane June 11, 2015 at 11:24 am #

      Yes, making it easy for customers to recycle their vehicles is key. Thanks for writing.

  7. Steele September 28, 2017 at 4:35 am #

    I did not know that Ford integrated the recycled material into the cloth seating in one of his cars! I have always tried to follow a “green” lifestyle and I like the thought that even cars can be recycled very much! My father has a very old car and I see no point in trying to repair it when you can just have it recycled and buy a new one. Hopefully, he’ll understand me and we will recycle his car.

    • Diane October 3, 2017 at 6:05 pm #

      Good luck. Let us know how recycling the car goes.

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