Jump-Start Your Car Recycling Plan

Steel frames, tires, batteries, oil filters and more can all reused

Scott Chaplin keeps his 1983 Honda Civic on the road while helping the environment stay clean.

The Carbondale, Colo., resident fixes his vehicle with used parts bought at the junkyard and changes his oil filter every 2,000 miles - recycling the oil, filter, and antifreeze. "People waste so much by not taking care of their cars and running them inefficiently," he says.

By recycling car parts and reducing the amount of pollution automobiles produce, consumers can minimize the damage vehicles render on Mother Nature.

"It's not safe or economical to keep an old car going unless it has a very high reliability record and gets relatively good gas mileage," adds Mr. Chaplin, who expects his car to hit 300,000 miles before its retirement. "In fact, taking an old gas guzzler to the junkyard - to be recycled of course - instead of the repair shop should be considered an act of environmental heroism."

Nearly every bit of your car can be reused: the steel frame, the tires, the oil filters - even the battery and the oil. The average car, for instance, is 55 percent steel (by weight) - and steel is the most recycled material on earth.

In steel recycling, old cars are hauled to one of the 12,000 United States dismantlers. Here the car is stripped of its usable parts that are then resold.

What remains of the car is shredded by one of the 250 shredders in the US and separated into three types of material: iron and steel; nonferrous metal such as zinc, aluminum, and brass; and fluff (seat cushions, carpeting, etc.) The metals are then sold for remelting in this country or abroad.

Although there is little market for fluff, which is sent to landfills, more than 12 million tons of steel in 1996 were recycled from automobiles - a recovery rate of 97.9 percent.

Oil filters, much like an automobiles' frame, also can be recycled into new products. According to the Pittsburgh-based Steel Recycling Institute, if you recycled all the oil filters sold annually in the US, enough steel would be recovered to make 16 stadiums the size of Atlanta's Olympic Stadium.

Tires, too, are highly recyclable and have many uses after vacating your car.

Besides retreads, which reuse 38 million tire casings annually, scrap tires are recycled into a variety of products - from tug boat fenders to rubber paving. Tires also can be used for fuel, landfill, and as asphalt. They can even be mixed with compost and used as a form of soil.

Consumers can also help the environment by taking better care of their tires. Tires inflated to the proper poundage not only drive better, but they get better gas mileage - a 5 percent savings on total fuel cost. Plus, low pressure wears tires faster and increases emissions.

"Manufacturers tend to overdesign tires," says Michael Blumental, executive director of the Scrap Tire Management Council. "If you buy a tire warranted for 30,000 miles, you can probably get 50,000 miles out of it if you check your air pressure twice a month, rotate your tires every 4,000 miles, and drive carefully."

Often recycling benefits consumers because it eliminates dangers.

Batteries need proper disposal since the lead in them may cause health problems. Over 70 percent of the lead used in the US today is found in automobile batteries - with nearly half of the battery's weight, an average of 19 pounds, being lead.

Disposing a car battery properly is easy. Many times all it takes is returning the used battery to the service station or retail store that sold it. (In today's scrap market, batteries are worth about $2 each).

Used oil also contains dangerous chemicals and heavy metals. "The damage to the environment from that oil you've taken out of that car is dramatic," says Bill Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute.

"People make the mistake of pouring it into the sewer or a hole in the ground or something of that nature and then you're contaminating the ground water or sewage plant."

Yet American do-it-yourselfers throw away 120 million gallons of used motor oil each year, according to the EPA.

Still, oil is a natural for recycling. Once oil is used, it can be collected, recycled, and used over and over again.

Used motor oil, for instance, can be re-refined and sold at the store as motor oil or processed for furnace fuel oil.

"Motor oil is a limited resource," says Dominick D'Altilio, a Ridgefield, N.J., resident who has recycled his car's oil and oil filters for the past 10 years. "Why waste it when you can take it to a facility for cleaning and it can be used again?"

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