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Recycling your clunker

It’s up to you, the driver, to be responsible for the final fate of your car at the end of its life. Fortunately, local services exist to dispose of your wheels with the environment in mind.


If you’re still driving in a vehicle that was made in 1995 or earlier, guess what? It’s probably issuing 19 times more emissions than a vehicle made after 2004. Yep, that old Tercel that works “just fine” is actually one of the worst polluters on the road. Probably time to recycle it.

It’s important to make sure vehicles are recycled properly, however---they contain many hazardous materials and fluids which can do enormous damage to the environment. A single mercury switch no bigger than a fingernail, for example, could contaminate a 20- hectare lake. Older cars can have up to five switches.

Drivers have been getting down with the auto-recycling movement. Environment Canada ran a program called Retire Your Ride, which offered incentives for people to recycle vehicles older than ’95. The program ended in March with over 125,000 cars recycled nationwide. Clean Nova Scotia delivered the Retire Your Ride program and took 2,200 cars off the road.

Julia Pelton, Program Coordinator for Clean Nova Scotia, says that Canadians need to take the initiative themselves now that Retire Your Ride is over. “We want to make sure the mercury doesn’t get into our environment,”she says. “Because it’s very harmful to animals and plants and it stays in the environment for a very, very long time.”

How do we know that once our old vehicles are sent to rececyling that it is being done properly? “All of our recyclers have to go through proper training,” says Pelton. “They have to follow an environmental code of practice, and they’ve all been audited so we know these recyclers are properly recycling these vehicles and the hazardous materials aren’t going back into the environment.”

Derek Covey, president of the Automotive Recyclers Association of Atlantic Canada, says recyclers are sticking to Retire Your Ride’s codes, reporting 14 registered vehicle recyclers across Nova Scotia who will continue the practice.

The most toxic pollutants found in a car are the fluids that keep it running smoothly. “The most contaminating ones are anti-freeze and, believe it or not, windshield washer fluid, which we spray out of our vehicles every day,” Covey says. “For the washer fluid we use it in our own vehicles and any leftover oil goes into our furnace, so we recycle as much as we can on-site.”

Other parts of the car are stripped down, and the recyclers then attempt to resell, reuse or recycle the various parts inside the car. What’s left is an empty shell of a metal frame. In come the crushers.

Most recyclers don’t have vehicle crushers on site, but when enough of pile up, they are brought in and the smashing begins. “Some of them are flattened horizontally and are put on top of one another,” Pelton says, gesturing with her hands. “Others are smashed into little cubes.”

This isn’t the end of the journey for the cars---now they head to either New Brunswick or Quebec for further processing. “They are put through a giant cheese grater,” says Pelton, laughing. “Or at least that’s how I like to think of it. It basically chops the cars into little tiny bits.”

The tiny remainders of the vehicles are then sorted even further--- one pile for scrap metal, another for everything else. The scrap metal is sold, melted down and reused. All told, 75 to 85 percent of a vehicle’s total weight is recycled. It doesn’t cost anything to recycle your car, and you might still get some compensation for bringing one in depending on the brand and year of manufacturing.

“Ultimately it is the responsibility of the consumer or the owner to make sure that their vehicle is handled by a reputable automotive recycler,” Covey says. “Since the price of metals has increased in the last few years, there’s been a lot of fly-by-night, unlicenced recyclers that have been purchasing these vehicles and definitely not removing mercury switches, taking what they can for monetary value. It’s a black market out there. “If you don’t recycle it you could always resell it,” he continues. “Or plant flowers in it.”

10 of the most harmful fluids and materials found in a car and how to recycle them.

Anti-freeze: Can often be re-processed into usable anti-freeze, take it to your local auto shop or recycler.

Automatic transmission fluid: You can take ATF to any location that will recycle used or old oil, such as a recycling facility. Brake fluid: Take it to a local auto shop or recycling depot so it can be disposed of properly.

Ferrous metals: Pretty much impossible to recycle at home, unless you can recycle steel in your back yard. Take it to a vehicle recycler.

Fuel: Should be taken to a hazardous waste collection centre, or if you have the knowhow to extract all of it, reuse it for other applications.

Lead/acid batteries: Local recycling depots, landfills and transfer stations will take your old battery free of charge.

Lubricant/Oil: Do not pour down the drain! Take it to a recycler so it doesn’t end up in our lakes.

Mercury switches: Should only be handled by professional car recyclers.

Power-steering fluid: Much like other harmful materials, it’s best to this fluid to a certified recycler to ensure it doesn’t end up in our lakes or rivers.

Rubber tires: Aside from setting up a tire swing, your best option is to find a local auto shop or recycler to prevent them from ending up in the landfill. Many tires that get recycled end up being reused in the materials that make up our provincial highways.

Remember to never dump any hazardous materials down a storm drain, your sink or anywhere on your property. The chemical properties can contaminate an entire area and potentially harm you and the environment.

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