Auto Recyclers go Green: They’re Geared up for Recycling

No longer are auto salvage yards the dumping grounds for acres of scrapped vehicles rusting in roadside junk-piles. “Junkyard is a word we don’t like to hear,” says Barbara Utter, Executive Director of Automotive Recyclers of Michigan. (ARM) She’s proud of what this association has accomplished and with good reason. Salvage yards in her state and in many others, are now following and often exceeding the strict federal, state and local regulations that have transformed this industry–the nation’s sixth largest.

“We have to comply with 26 standards, which we along with the Automotive Recylers Association have proactively developed,” says Utter. They include business;environmental; safety; and licensing and regulatory standards.Compliance with these standards enables ARM members to be certified by the State of Michigan.

There’s Skeletons in this Business

It’s this huge enterprise, mainly comprised of small, independent businesses, which is responsible for annually crushing and recycling 14 million tons of steel nationwide. “This steel comes from end- of-life vehicles,” says Utter. Where does it go? “After huge crushing machines, often located in the companies’ salvage yards, compress a vehicle into scrap metal, it’s sold and sent to smelting factories where it’s melted down and processed back into steel. Persons driving a brand new car or truck often don’t realize that their vehicle was once the skeleton of an old clunker. It’s no accident that the automobile is the most recycled product in the world. Ninety percent can be reused.

We Were the First Recyclers

They also don’t realize that everything in a damaged vehicle taken to a salvage yard, is sold, drained, stored or disposed of in a safe and secure manner. “We don’t like to toot our own horn,but we were one of the earliest recyclers,” says Utter.

A Green Yard

One Michigan salvage yard, Eagle Auto Parts, can toot its own horn. Located on 50 acres, it’s one of the largest in the state. Its owner, Bert Hovenkamp, was recently awarded a plaque and a banner, by ARM, designating his operation as a ‘Green Yard.’ “He certainly earned it,” says Utter.

A Green Yard at Work

Here, employees are hard at work. Some are operating end loaders and forklifts that are lifting cars and carrying parts.The huge car lot can hold up to 5000 vehicles, most of which are damaged and arrive from auctions and auto insurance companies. Others are taking orders for parts that come from car dealers, body shops and walk-in customers. In the huge warehouse, men are inventorying, cataloguing, and shelving parts. Some men, wearing safety glasses, hard-hats and steel-tipped shoes, are working in the yard’s dismantling facility where the vehicles’ fluids are extracted.

A Green Yard Recycles

Engines, transmissions, and brakes are similar to humans because they need fluid to enable them to operate smoothly. It’s these fluids such as engine oil, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid, that all need to be be drained out before the vehicle is dismantled.They’re prohibited from draining into the ground where they would eventually seep into the waterways and pollute rivers and lakes.

Green Precautions

“We’ve designed an efficient fluid extracting program,” says Hovenkamp.”We have to remove them and drain them into containers specially designed to store them. Hazardous waste materials such as air conditioning refrigerant and mercury also need to be properly disposed of.

Nothing is Wasted

Car batteries are stored in lidded plastic containers or placed in a covered storage area that has an impervious surface.Some of these by-products are sent to disposal companies. Gasoline is also drained from every vehicle and used to fuel company vehicles. Nothing is wasted. Even intact air bags are packaged and resold.

What’s Left

When all fluids and hazardous materials have been eliminated, the vehicle is dismantled and stripped of all its major components such as motors and transmissions. They’re then stored in the yard’s warehouse. Here they rest for awhile before they’re sold. All that’s left of the stripped vehicle is an ugly hull, which will someday become part of a shiny new car.

Green is Money

How is Hovenkamp’s business doing in this poor economy? “We’re doing great,” he says. ” I’ve had to hire more people.” It seems that going green isn’t just environmental good sense, it can also be profitable.

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