Preventing Used Vehicles from Polluting Waterways

Up to 2 million vehicles reach the end of their useful life in California each year. Auto recycling is the leading recycling industry in California, and in the United States, according to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, with over 75% of material from cars being recycled. California auto recyclers dismantle nearly 650,000 vehicles each year! By keeping vehicles and their hazardous components out of overcrowded landfills, auto recyclers provide a valuable community service.

Surprisingly, however, many auto recyclers inadvertently harm the environment. Adding to the problem are unlicensed, illegal auto recycling facilities that fail to manage their businesses safely.

For instance, when auto recyclers improperly discard or store hazardous auto parts, toxic substances such as metals, oils, and coolants can end up on the ground. When it rains, these substances are then flushed into our waterways. Mercury is particularly dangerous, even in very small quantities, because when it’s released to the atmosphere and returns to earth as rainfall it endangers aquatic life and public health. For example, vehicles may contain up to two grams of mercury in their hood and trunk light switches alone—mercury that can be released to the environment when cars are crushed for scrap metal recycling.

Working Together for Change
Unfortunately, lengthy courtroom battles often result from attempts to address this complicated issue. Sustainable Conservation responded to this need for change and launched the Auto Recycling project in 2001. A collaborative effort is now underway between the State of California Auto Dismantlers Association, regulatory agencies, and environmentalists to find cost effective solutions to polluted runoff. Sustainable Conservation is now laying the groundwork for national improvements in the way recycled vehicles affect water quality.

Since the inception of the Auto Recycling project, Sustainable Conservation has:

  • Educated auto recyclers about environmentally sound management practices through the distribution of user-friendly educational videos and fact sheets
  • Worked to inform regulators about the environmental impact of poor management practices, particularly those found in illegal vehicle dismantling and rebuilding operations

Highlights

Resources

Reports and Resources
  • Managing End-of-Life Vehicles to Minimize Environmental Harm
  • Incenting Auto Recyclers Towards Environmental Excellence
  • Auto Recycling Outreach Poster
  • Fact Sheet: A Guide for Auto Recycler Owners and Operators
  • Overview for Auto Recyclers

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