Auto recycling is a crucial element of America’s
recycling infrastructure as it oversees the end-of-life
stage for millions of cars that are retired on
an annual basis from the nation’s nearly 300 million
Ensuring that it is economically viable and environmentally-friendly
is essential to both recyclers and the general
public, which at times does not recognize the full
implications of having a system that dismantles
vehicles to provide quality spare parts, provide
steel mills with feedstock, recovers valuable non-ferrous
metals and ensures that hazardous materials found
in cars contaminate the environment.
Joseph Holsten, president and chief executive officer,
LKQ Corporation, spoke with American Recycler about
the current state of the industry.
Do you have any thoughts on methods to increase
the percentage of the vehicle that can be recycled?
Holsten: At LKQ, we have a Zero Landfill Goal and
are working hard to meet that target. On average,
we are able to recycle more than 80 percent of
total vehicle weight from the recycling of the
metals, fluids and tires. The viability of recycling
the plastic, glass, foam and fabric from vehicles
remains a challenge. While the technology to recover
post-shredder materials exists, the costs remain
too high to support the collection, transport and
processing of non-metal solid materials.
What more can be done to promote the sale of recycled
oil and its use as an energy source?
Holsten: LKQ supports the use of recycled oil as
an energy source. Every vehicle we purchase – and,
last year, that meant more than 440,000 cars –
is first processed through a fluid station where
the fluids, including motor oil, are separately
removed and, whenever possible, reused. For example,
many of our salvage yards heat their plants with
EPA-approved oil furnaces. Each of our recycling
facilities sells the used oil it collects to recycling
companies that process it for heating and other
What is being done to promote the sale of recovered
fluids to recyclers and fluid manufacturers?
Holsten: The collection and recycling
of fluids from vehicles is driven by regulatory
constraints, the inherent value of the fluids for
reuse, and current recycling and fluid management
practices. LKQ collects fluids and utilizes cost
effective, approved approaches for treatment, reuse,
recycling and energy recovery. The best option
for fluid treatment is often driven by market demand,
geography, and availability of the services of
What type of federal and state legislation is needed
to help the industry?
Holsten: The recycling of vehicles for parts, metals
and fluids, makes sense. Why use scarce resources
and subject the environment to additional emissions
in order to create more of what we already have?
Legislation works best when the objectives of the
free market and public policy coincide and the
economics of recycling are aligned with what is
good for the environment.
We feel strongly that in order to maintain the
safety of the motoring public and to protect the
environment only qualified buyers should have access
to purchase salvaged vehicles at the auctions.
We also have advocated in support of state compliance
with the National Motor Vehicle Title Information
System or NMVTIS. NMVTIS is an important industry
program that tracks the transfer of vehicles and
helps protect consumers from purchasing unsafe
and fraudulently obtained vehicles.
What action can the industry take to increase the
percentage of a vehicle that can be recycled?
Holsten: To increase the recyclable portion of
vehicles, we need viable options for recycling
plastic, glass and foam materials. One approach
that would support improving the supply of recycled
plastics would be to work with vehicle manufacturers
on product designs that encourage the use of plastics
that are compatible for easier recycling. Another
approach would be to work with plastic recycling
companies to gain a better understanding of the
collection requirements and separation methods
that can accommodate the recycling of different
types of plastics.
Extensive labeling of all plastic parts and their
components would further assist recycling efforts,
and help in the collection and proper separation
of materials before the vehicles are shredded.
What are some of the problems facing auto recyclers
in terms of the actual dismantling of vehicles
and what can be done about them?
Holsten: There are a number of challenges facing
auto recyclers including the handling of the materials
selected for use in new cars and the design of
the vehicle systems and components. New specialty
and boron steels and other high strength metals
create challenges in cutting, removing parts and
other dismantling procedures. The design of fluid
reservoirs often makes it difficult to completely
drain and capture fluids for recycling. LKQ is
working through the Automobile Recyclers Association
to collaborate with the OEMs on fluid collection,
vehicle design and material selection in order
to improve the recycling process.
As hybrid electric vehicles become more common,
they ultimately will end up in salvage yards, posing
new recycling challenges. These vehicles contain
new battery chemistries that are potentially dangerous
and do not, yet, have an established infrastructure
for recycling. We are working with the OEMs and
battery recycling companies to establish safe handling
procedures, and to help develop markets and the
infrastructure to recycle these batteries.