JANUARY 2010

 

ON TOPIC


Auto recycling is a crucial element of America’s recycling infrastructure as it oversees the end-of-life stage for millions of cars that are retired on an annual basis from the nation’s nearly 300 million vehicles.

Ensuring that it is economically viable and environmentally-friendly is essential to both recyclers and the general public, which at times does not recognize the full implications of having a system that dismantles vehicles to provide quality spare parts, provide steel mills with feedstock, recovers valuable non-ferrous metals and ensures that hazardous materials found in cars contaminate the environment.

Joseph Holsten, president and chief executive officer, LKQ Corporation, spoke with American Recycler about the current state of the industry.

Do you have any thoughts on methods to increase the percentage of the vehicle that can be recycled?

Holsten: At LKQ, we have a Zero Landfill Goal and are working hard to meet that target. On average, we are able to recycle more than 80 percent of total vehicle weight from the recycling of the metals, fluids and tires. The viability of recycling the plastic, glass, foam and fabric from vehicles remains a challenge. While the technology to recover post-shredder materials exists, the costs remain too high to support the collection, transport and processing of non-metal solid materials.

What more can be done to promote the sale of recycled oil and its use as an energy source?

Holsten: LKQ supports the use of recycled oil as an energy source. Every vehicle we purchase – and, last year, that meant more than 440,000 cars – is first processed through a fluid station where the fluids, including motor oil, are separately removed and, whenever possible, reused. For example, many of our salvage yards heat their plants with EPA-approved oil furnaces. Each of our recycling facilities sells the used oil it collects to recycling companies that process it for heating and other purposes.

What is being done to promote the sale of recovered fluids to recyclers and fluid manufacturers?

Holsten: The collection and recycling of fluids from vehicles is driven by regulatory constraints, the inherent value of the fluids for reuse, and current recycling and fluid management practices. LKQ collects fluids and utilizes cost effective, approved approaches for treatment, reuse, recycling and energy recovery. The best option for fluid treatment is often driven by market demand, geography, and availability of the services of recycling companies.

What type of federal and state legislation is needed to help the industry?

Holsten: The recycling of vehicles for parts, metals and fluids, makes sense. Why use scarce resources and subject the environment to additional emissions in order to create more of what we already have? Legislation works best when the objectives of the free market and public policy coincide and the economics of recycling are aligned with what is good for the environment.

We feel strongly that in order to maintain the safety of the motoring public and to protect the environment only qualified buyers should have access to purchase salvaged vehicles at the auctions. We also have advocated in support of state compliance with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or NMVTIS. NMVTIS is an important industry program that tracks the transfer of vehicles and helps protect consumers from purchasing unsafe and fraudulently obtained vehicles.

What action can the industry take to increase the percentage of a vehicle that can be recycled?

Holsten: To increase the recyclable portion of vehicles, we need viable options for recycling plastic, glass and foam materials. One approach that would support improving the supply of recycled plastics would be to work with vehicle manufacturers on product designs that encourage the use of plastics that are compatible for easier recycling. Another approach would be to work with plastic recycling companies to gain a better understanding of the collection requirements and separation methods that can accommodate the recycling of different types of plastics.

Extensive labeling of all plastic parts and their components would further assist recycling efforts, and help in the collection and proper separation of materials before the vehicles are shredded.

What are some of the problems facing auto recyclers in terms of the actual dismantling of vehicles and what can be done about them?

Holsten: There are a number of challenges facing auto recyclers including the handling of the materials selected for use in new cars and the design of the vehicle systems and components. New specialty and boron steels and other high strength metals create challenges in cutting, removing parts and other dismantling procedures. The design of fluid reservoirs often makes it difficult to completely drain and capture fluids for recycling. LKQ is working through the Automobile Recyclers Association to collaborate with the OEMs on fluid collection, vehicle design and material selection in order to improve the recycling process.

As hybrid electric vehicles become more common, they ultimately will end up in salvage yards, posing new recycling challenges. These vehicles contain new battery chemistries that are potentially dangerous and do not, yet, have an established infrastructure for recycling. We are working with the OEMs and battery recycling companies to establish safe handling procedures, and to help develop markets and the infrastructure to recycle these batteries.