Recycle unwanted electronicsOver 10 million vehicles are sent to salvage yards and scrap facilities each year. Approximately 75 percent (by weight) of a vehicle is composed of metals that are recycled.

The other 25 percent contains plastics, rubber, wood, paper, glass, and other materials. Nearly 5 million tons of this auto shredder residue ("fluff") are disposed of in landfills each year.

A greater emphasis on the use of recycled/recovered materials in vehicles will decrease the amount of toxic and hazardous constituents in automobiles and decrease the amount of waste material going to landfills.

U.S. EPA grant: Product stewardship within the automobile industry

With the support of a grant from U.S. EPA, Minnesota looked at opportunities for product stewardship within the automobile industry. The consulting group Five Winds International was hired for research and analysis.

The research and final report were intended to improve understanding of the auto industry and address several important issues and their potential for reducing waste:

  • Materials used in automobiles, including selection issues, trends and other design issues in the U.S. auto industry.
  • Environmental goals and challenges related to material use, as set by the automakers and their suppliers.
  • The impact that international automotive legislation (such as those in the EU and Japan on vehicle recycling) might have on domestic design and manufacturing.
  • The characteristics of materials currently used and the challenges or opportunities for reducing materials of concern.
  • Increasing the use of recyclable materials and/or recycled-content materials in automobiles.

Report: Product Stewardship Opportunities within the Automotive Industry

Summary. When a car or truck reaches the end of its useful life, about 75 percent of each vehicle by weight is recycled. This is a high rate when compared to 52 percent of appliances are collected for recycling. However, there are still five million tons of automotive waste disposed of in landfills in the U.S. each year. This report examines the barriers and opportunities to recycling automotive waste.

The report found that how much waste can be recycled depends on what kind of material it is, how easy it is to recover it, and whether there is a market to take the material. Streamlining the types of materials used in vehicles and developing an infrastructure to support recycling and markets for materials could help the industry dramatically increase its recycling rate.

Additionally, there are new challenges such as automotive design trends toward the use of more electronics. Electronics contain heavy metals, flame retardants, and materials that are difficult to separate and recover. The electronics industry is also facing this challenge and is working on product stewardship initiatives in several states, in the European Union, and globally. There may be opportunities for the automotive industry to support and be part of this work.

Finally, as the automotive industry designs new vehicles, it can identify and prevent environmental impacts. Solving these issues up front will avoid problems in the future.