Don’t Call Us Junkyard Dogs Anymore!
The old school linear economy is becoming a thing of the past. At one time, everything was make, use, dispose. A new model of thinking is growing and that’s the circular economy, in which we keep resources actively in use for as long as possible, maximizing it’s value in the process. Spoiler alert: It ends with recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service life. Few industrial sectors exemplify this better than automotive recycling. Once maligned for sketchy practices, the industry is transitioning into a model of respectability and a leader in environmental thought.
With the recent launch of the non-profit organization, End-of-Life Vehicle Sector Council (ELVSC) back in November of last year, a turning point was reached in an industry attempting to redefine and reposition itself in a rapidly changing sector that’s bracing for the future.
The ELVSC will play a critical role as it supports the ELV management standard while providing training services to stakeholders in all aspects of ELV management.
“It’s a standards-based solution to recycling end-of-life vehicles that we are seeking,” says Steve Fletcher, managing director of the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC), an umbrella group of seven associations representing over 400 auto recyclers. He’s also the executive director of 180-member Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA).
The ELVSC will also support provincial auto recyclers to meet regulated end-of-life recycling standards adopted by Ontario in March, 2016. Those standards form a critical part of ensuring that vehicles are dismantled with the proper management of hazardous wastes, and will require all Ontario ELV recyclers to prevent discharge of pollutants into the environment.
The council is but one solution to a host of changes occurring in an industry that’s currently trying to shed an unfair image of a profession populated with lazy, unscrupulous, self-serving scrapyard wheeler-dealers, hell-bent on chasing their bottom line.
And with the introduction of quality control programs, new sophisticated technology, improved training and a host of standards, the industry is packing its bags and moving into the twenty first century.
Every year in Canada, approximately 1.6 million vehicles reach the end of their useful lives.
Some have crashed. Some have trashed. Put another way, some vehicles have been victimized through accidents; others are simply “done.” Once upon a time these cars were considered scrap and thus disposable. But values change over time and now these former junk heaps are perceived as a major players in the circular economy.
That’s due in part to the fact that automobiles are the most recycled consumer product in the world today. They offer enough steel to produce 13 million (!) cars. You may not realize that much recycling happens while your car is still in use, through a process called automotive aftermarket recycling. In fact, about 80 per cent of your car can actually be reused or recycled.
In Canada the sector creates thousands of jobs and generates over $1 billion in revenues. In the good ol’ U-S-of-A, auto recycling is the 16th largest industry. It employs over 100,000 people and contributes about $25 billion to the local economy, annually. In Europe, nearly eight million vehicles are recycled every year.
Oh, and the environmental benefits shouldn’t be left out of the discussion either. The North American recycling industry saves about 85 million barrels of oil from getting used in making new or replacement auto parts. Automotive recycling is also responsible for contributing about 40% of all ferrous metal to the scrap processing industry.
These figures can’t be ignored and their economic and environmental benefits have important ramifications that cut across international borders. Right now, however, the industry is in a state of flux. On the one hand, the industry appears to be populated partly by old school scrap heap operators in it for the bottom line, even as a new breed of recycler who takes his business and brand seriously enters the picture. Furthermore, the sector has been largely self-governed with some operators more business savvy and socially-and-environmentally responsible than others. Hence, the influx of new standards and introduction of new regulations that are gradually turning the industry on its head.
Auto Recycling 101
Let’s start with some basics and one of the most basic questions is, what is automobile recycling exactly?
According to Steve Fletcher, auto recycling tends to fall into two activities. “First, it’s essentially about buying cars nobody else wants because of accidents or general use,” he says. “There lots of good parts and they’re valid. Older cars still run but the owner doesn’t want to put the money into them. One of the hardest aspects of what we do is buying and finding vehicles since much is based on the reuse of parts.”
“The other half” of automotive recycling deals with selling parts, that is, components like engines, fenders, roofs, quarter panels and others that are more commonly wrecked. “Our members want to use as much of the car as they can,” says Fletcher. “If they can’t sell the parts about 75 per cent of the metal will be recycled.”
The most commonly-recycled parts of a vehicle include tires, batteries, radiators, transmissions, rubber hoses, mats, oil filters, wheels, windshield glass and more. We’ve written about recycling tires before, and they have been transmogrified into everything from playground foundations to highways to fashion accessories.
Old batteries can be made into new ones. Metals like steel and iron can almost be placed in a recycling category by themselves.
But before any of that can take place, the car goes through a process, which includes conducting a substantial inspection to determine if the car can actually be repaired. If this is unlikely, the car moves into the dismantling phase.
Most cars are dismantled and recycled. Fluids like antifreeze, transmission and brake lubricants, gas and oil are drained and the hazardous liquids are set aside for safe disposal. Gas and antifreeze can actually be filtered and reused. After this, the engine and transmission are removed from the chassis and the chosen parts are cleaned. Auto recyclers also remove and sell valuable metals in the car, such as copper from the radiator, or aluminum from the wheels or engine.
Although some car parts can be used “as is” to repair other cars, still others are sold to remanufacturers to overhaul. The final remaining step in the process is crushing the remaining car body and then shredding into a fist-sized pieces of metal. About sixty percent of a passenger vehicle is composed of steel and iron. Interestingly, the steel used in a brand new vehicle contains at least 25 per cent recycled materials, and can include the hood, trunk, door, quarter panels or the shell itself.
“It’s actually fascinating to watch,” says Fletcher. “It’s very labour-intensive on the dismantling and parts side. A lot of people think we’re reverse manufacturing!”
As fascinating as the process is, it’s also becoming governed by a series of policies and standards that have been long been percolating. That’s because it was virtually the “wild west” as Fletcher says, in terms of standardizing recycling practices. “There’s good recyclers and there’s bad recyclers. We need the government to help identify who’s good and who’s bad.” Some of the more unscrupulous recyclers caring only for their bottom line are built only for speed, and may not extract hazardous chemicals, like mercury, operating fluids or refrigerant, each of which can have devastating effects on the environment.
For example, Fletcher says that a mere .85 grams of mercury is enough to pollute 20 hectares of water. Other liquids, like various operating fluids can have a devastating impact on groundwater.
In March 2016, the province of Ontario introduced the Environmental Activity and Sector Registry (EASR), which creates a series of recycling standards that will put demands on all ELV recyclers to manage subject and hazardous wastes. ELV recyclers not meeting the standards will either have to invest in their business in order to meet the new regulations or leave the industry. The move has been applauded by many in the recycling world and described as a “game-changer” by others.
Part of changing the game has been Canada’s rather late entry into the low carbon economy. While ELV recycling is indeed an ongoing achievement with 85 per cent of the ELV being recycled back into the economy, the launch of a sector council seemed like the next logical step.
Introduced in November 2016, the End-of-Life Vehicle Sector Council (ELVSC) is an initiative of ARC with support of the Global Automakers of Canada and the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association. The non-profit organization will perform a number of functions, including maintaining a uniform set of environmental performance standards for Canadian ELV recyclers that will serve as a foundation that have not developed regulated standards; facilitate the training of ELV recyclers with a view to assisting them in achieving regulatory compliance in Canadian jurisdictions with recycling standards like those currently operating in Ontario, BC and PEI. It will also play a major role in information dissemination about environmental data, while collaborating with stakeholders to research and support innovation in ELV-related resource recovery. Finally, the ELVSC will provide clearinghouse services to facilitate OEM-recycler technical data exchange.
Fletcher says the NGO will provide standards-based solutions to recycling ELVs.
“Ultimately as part of the solution, training is needed,” he says. “You need to show people here’s where materials need to be recovered. That training applies to both the processing side, including the all-important metal recovery as well as the dismantling side. The ELVSC will play a vital role in enforcing and measuring those standards.
“We need an operating standard that’s consistent and reliable so customers have faith in the product,” says Andrew MacDonald, owner of both Maritime Auto Parts in Glenholme, NS and Maritime Pick-A-Part, near Halifax. “It’s important to all have the same level of standard.”
The agency also needs to collaborate with automotive manufacturers, with data sharing on the processing side forming an important part of an overall strategy.
“It’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to ensure their models are handled at end-of-life,” says Fletcher. “It’s good corporate citizenship to be stewards of the vehicle.”
Moving Into the Future
With the sector council establishing its footing, the industry as a whole continues to redefine itself on a number of fronts. One of those variables is image. Many people still view the industry through the dated lens of the junkyard dog scrounging in the salvage, trying to make a fast buck.
“We’ve never really explained our role we play in the lifespan of a car,” says Fletcher. “We’re much more than just junkyard dogs and need to educate people.”
Complementing that will be improvements in training for the latest crop of automotive recyclers, especially in sales of parts and the technological realm. For all intents and purposes, tomorrow’s car is essentially a smart phone on wheels.
“It’s about professionalizing the sale of auto parts,” says Fletcher. “That means improving the standard and getting better training and certifications. It’s helpful to understand how cars work, what can be repaired and understand why you’re pulling a specific part.
“The parts counter personnel will also have to be trained.. These days you almost need to be a certified dismantler. We’re looking at developing core competencies for the big three areas: dismantling, sales and inventory.”
“The Ford computer will be a Ford computer and will be unique,” says MacDonald. “That computer will need reprogramming. More often than not the car will become economic write offs because the components are more valuable than they used to be.
“A great example is a mirror in the Mercedes. A mirror used to be just a mirror and was considered expensive at $100. Now, with blind spot cameras and LED a mirror will set you back anywhere from $500.00 to $1,000.00. That means you can fetch around $250.00-to-$500.00 for a used one. Parts are becoming more valuable and cost more money because of the complexity of it.”
This means that automotive recyclers need to embrace technology and look at the “parts of the future”, like sensors and radar and they need to determine how these will be offered to customers.
A recent IHS automotive survey indicated that the average age of cars on the road is 11.5 years. This means that vehicles not only have improved reliability, but also that consumers are more aware of preventative maintenance and regular servicing to maximize the life span of their vehicles. While consumers continue to purchase new vehicles, older vehicles continue to last longer. In fact, a 2015 USA Today article stated that the number of vehicles on the road 25-years-old and older is about 14 million. While the number of vehicles 16-to-24 years old is about 44 million.
The cumulative impact of these numbers means new growth opportunities and revenue streams for a range of automotive providers in the aftermarket sector and other areas as well. With an increased awareness of both the environmental and economic impact of their role on the (national) stage, automotive recyclers will be well positioned to leverage this knowledge and open new doors while improving their image.
Professional auto recycling is changing to meet a higher quality of customer service,” says MacDonald. “We’re continuously growing as a whole and we’re getting better at quality and delivery of parts.”
The Canadian Auto Recyclers’ Environmental Code (CAREC)
Formed in 1997 as an “association of associations”, the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) is the national voice of the automotive recycling industry, representing, through its provincial affiliates, over 400 end-of-live vehicle (ELV) recyclers and dismantlers throughout Canada.
In addition to providing a forum for the channelling of information and addressing Canada wide concerns, ARC is actively involved in the leadership, promotion and betterment of the automotive recycling industry across the country. One output of this is The National Code of Practice for Automotive Recyclers (CoP) which was developed in 2008 for recyclers participating in the National Vehicle Recycling Program – Retire Your Ride. Given the popularity and success of the CoP, it was decided to ensure that it should remain in use after the Retire Your Ride program ended in March 2011. Accordingly the CoP was renamed the Canadian Auto Recyclers’ Environmental Code (CAREC) and its scope expanded to cover all end-of- life vehicles (and not only vehicles targeted by the Retire Your Ride program). CAREC provides recyclers with the most relevant information and tools to prevent hazardous materials contained in end-of-life vehicles from contaminating our water, land, and air during and after the vehicle recycling process.
This guideline has been updated, in keeping with the latest regulations and policies.
CAREC is an invaluable resource for automotive recyclers, outlining best practices for the environmentally sound management of end-of-life vehicles (ELV). We encourage all auto recyclers throughout Canada to adopt the Code into their business practice.
CAREC has three goals:
1) To convey the legal and mandatory requirements before, during and after the recycling process and promote best management practices within the industry
2) To promote pollution prevention and the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in the vehicle recovery industry to reduce the ecological impact of the automotive sector; and,
3) To ensure that there is a consistent set of practices that are aligned as much as possible, with federal, provincial and municipal laws and regulations, as well as with product and industry stewardship programs where applicable.
Auto & Trucking Atlantic Magazine, July 2017 by Carter Hammett