The Evolution of the Vehicle Recycling Industry

The Evolution of the Vehicle Recycling Industry

A 1940 training film for Chevrolet salesmen contains a line that, to say the least, has aged poorly: “We hope you’ll buy your next ten cars from us.” Unless you have the best or worst luck in history, you probably won’t buy ten cars in your lifetime. What you may do, however, is buy a car whose origins lie in ten or more recycled cars. Today, at least 85 percent of each retired automobile by weight went not to its final resting place but back into circulation, thanks to refined recycling practices. The evolution of the vehicle recycling industry has helped make the entire automotive manufacturing sector of our economy a more sustainable one.

Leave No Stone Unturned, No Fluff Unused

After recyclers remove all possible steel from a vehicle in the high-intensity and high-volume shredding process, what remains is the automotive shredder residue or “fluff.” This fluff contains everything from auto glass to rubber to fabrics and more. Earlier in the timeline of vehicle recycling, while recyclers knew well enough to make the most of all possible steel, this material went to the landfill. Today, recyclers make the most of non-ferrous construction materials before or after the old car meets the shredder. With the right processing methods, recyclers can take old automotive glass and prepare it for new use or send it to other non-automotive applications. Even fabric upholstery can turn up in new interiors.

Finding Metals in the Fluff

In addition to the many other materials in fluff, non-ferrous scrap metals sometimes reside there as well. The ability to harvest this metal from what would otherwise be discarded residue is one of the more significant advances in the scrap metal industry. Fluff often contains cadmium, lead, and other valuable metals, and being able to recover them has made automotive recycling much more lucrative.

Powering Homes, Creating Jobs

One of the most important aspects of the evolution of the vehicle recycling industry is the list of ancillary benefits that increased attention on sustainability has brought. By doing so much more recycling, this sector of the economy has grown to employ hundreds of thousands of Americans in well-paying jobs, representing a gross domestic product of $25 billion each year. And the reduced need to produce virgin steel also results in a better allocation of energy. The energy that we save in steel production accounts for powering over 15 million American households. Beyond preserving natural resources, that’s something we can all benefit from.

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