Where Does Your Junk Go

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So you’ve junked your old car, and you’re glad. Good riddance to the thing. But aren’t you the least bit curious about what happens to your junker after it’s towed away. (Not a little bit? Really?)

If you can even a smidge, you’ll be glad to know that it won’t sit, rusting slowly in a junkyard. About 86 percent of an end-of-life car is recycled. That’s more than any other consumer product. More than paper? Yup. More than glass? Yup. More than tin cans? (What do you think?)

Let’s look where all this car material goes…

Take it apart, piece by piece…

After you hand your car over to the salvage yard, the first thing they’re going to do it strip it of parts that can be refurbished or reused. Lots of parts can get a new lease on life in a different car. Engines, transmissions, doors, bumpers, starters, alternators, water pumps: all might live to see another day.  

The yard also removes oil, coolant, gasoline, and other fluids for reuse or recycling. Waste not, want not. Plus, we really don’t want car fluids seeping into the soil and water supply. Nasty.

Shred that baby to bits…

Whatever is left goes to the infamous shredder. (Sounds like the villain in a splatter movie.) The machine tears the car into fist-size pieces, which get separated by substance. Metal chunks are whisked off to various plants, such as steel mills, furnaces, and smelters, where it’s used to make new products. For example, parts of your clunker might become consumer batteries, construction materials, or – shockingly – new car parts.

But recycling doesn’t stop with metal. Shredded tires are transformed into asphalt, playground surfaces, garden mulch, brake pedals, or floor mats. Tires also go back to the beginning: new tires contain 10 percent recycled material.

And…recycling goes beyond metal and rubber. Car plastics are also given exciting new lives. For instance, pumpers made from PET plastics become parts of new automobiles or appliances.

It goes both ways…

A side note: not only are car parts recycled, but recyclables make up 20 percent of new cars’ weight, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association. For example:

  • Done with that milk jug? It can become auto trim.
  • Dead batteries? Their casings are turned into splash shields  
  • You know all those plastic bottles? They make great heating vent covers and engine oil level gauges.
  • Don’t toss that old nylon carpet. It can be recycled into air cleaners and

evaporative emissions systems.

  • Wondering about other recycled plastics? They live on in underbody shields, battery trays, fan shrouds, air conditioner housings and carpets.

A whole new world…

You weren’t happy with your junk car, but, chances are, it will go on to make someone else happy. It’ll just be in another form. That’s the beauty of recycling. One person’s trash is another person’s…consumer product. Not exactly poetic, but environmentally sound.

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