Recycling a Car

(When you think of Volvo, you will think Sweden, safety and luxury. Now you can add environment friendly to the  Volvo brand.Image source: http://magazine.volvotrucks.com)

The buzz word of the day is recycling and there is no major act from Malaysians to prioritize recycling in daily life.

It was interesting watching “Mega Breakdown” over at the Discovery Channel where a 2 man team breaks down a used Volvo truck and recycles 95% of the truck. What is more interesting is the fact that Volvo actually plans on what can be recycled at the very early stage – during the design stage – when they design a new truck for the market and they aim for 90% recycle rate (and they managed to prove that the 95% cycle rate can be achieved):-

Now, I took a step back and try to reflect the situation right here at home – Malaysia. Just how far we are when it comes to recycling of used vehicles. Our roads are already over choked with vehicles of all shapes and designs. And instead of limiting the cars on the road and improving on the public transports, we instead just extend the existing roads and create new ones. At the end, it only means more cars.

So, what we have done with those cars which had passed its working life? Let’s see – we have used car dealers, the “potong kereta” (half cut) shops and finally scrap metal dealers. These 3 industries do make some impact on how we are able to recycle back the old cars whenever we drop them aside when we opt for new car. But if it comes to high recycle rate, even with an active industries, it is not enough due to several restrictions:-

Used Car Dealers – just how many of us opt to buy used car these days as compared to new cars which is more fuel efficient, safer and bristling with new technology.

Just how many of the used Protons and Peroduas are lying under the sun and rain, rusting away in the many used car dealer’s yard? Too many, I say. So, recycling by means of selling the car to someone else is not a viable option (the model of the car also plays a major role – used BMW or Mercedes Benz for the right price is a heaven sent deal).

Half-cut Shops – they can be a blessing in disguise when we need to replace faulty or damaged parts. for an cheaper but safer alternatives

Whilst it is true that parts purchased from these half-cut shops are not brand new and may conceal hidden damages, it is still better option for those who cannot afford to buy brand new parts from the authorised dealers. For those who want to modify their local assembled cars with higher quality parts from Japan for a reasonable price, half-cut shops is the place to go. Then again, the problem with half-cut shops is this – there is no way to gauge the quality of the parts purchased from them.

Despite some of these parts are original or from a higher quality brand, there is no way to tell when these parts will subsequently fail. And a failed part is not only dangerous but your insurance claim may be deemed null and void as the parts did not come from authorized dealers.

Scrap Metal Dealers – they play an important role when it comes to recycling. Just about anything that can be recycled – old newspapers, old batteries, glass bottles, tin cans, metals, etc, they are the one to go to.

Since we only sells to these dealers, there is no danger of getting faulty parts (although the money earned from selling to scrap metal dealers is chicken feed). The problem however is dismantling. We cannot just drive a car up to the dealer and ask him to dismantle it himself. Firstly, it will be difficult to gauge how to pay for the parts and secondly if dealer do not have the expertise, dismantling is going to be one messy work and may not be environment friendly too (just imagine them throwing away a bucket load of used engine oil into the drain) .

That leaves us to relook at how Volvo does it.

To facilitate recycling, Volvo Trucks produced a dismantling manual back in the mid-1990s. At the design stage, Volvo Trucks already takes account of what is going to happen the day the truck is taken off the road.

The parts in good condition become spare parts; others are recycled or are turned into new energy. To make dismantling effective, the parts have to be easy to remove. All the cables and wiring, for example, are held together with 2,000 plastic clips to make them easy to dismantle.

All the materials are selected with recycling in mind. Using dyed plastic rather than painted plastic is just one of the many details.

(Source: Volvo Trucks)

And Volvo even comes up with a list of items that can be re-used or recycled and that makes it easier (for them and recycling centers) to recycle its trucks and this includes the following:-

Batteries
Around 60 per cent is lead and it is melted down and used to produce new batteries. Some 30 per cent is sulphuric acid, which is neutralized to produce water. The remainder is plastic, which is turned into energy. Good batteries can be re-manufactured and sold.

Brake discs
Can be recycled via smelting.

Bulbs
All the components are recycled after being taken apart.

Cooling media
The gas R134a (HFC) can be re-used after cleaning, if it is not contaminated by oil. R134a which is contaminated by oil can be incinerated and turned into energy.

Electronics
The metal is recycled, while the energy is recovered from the plastic.

Engine
The metal is melted down and turned into new engines. Engines in good condition can be re-manufactured.

Glass
Can be fully recycled through smelting.

Glycol
Can be re-used if the quality is high. Otherwise, it is neutralized and turned into water by adding bacteria.

Metal
Iron, steel, aluminum, copper and bronze are materials with a high value. They are recycled to a level of almost 100 per cent via smelting.

Oil and oil filters
High-quality oil can be re-used. Contaminated oil can be used as energy in the cement industry, for example. Oil filters can be recycled to a level of 90 per cent. They are centrifuged to separate the oil, which is recycled through purification. The metal and plastic are melted down or are turned into energy.

Silencers
Old silencers are melted down. Silencers from Euro 4 and onwards contain a ceramic substrate and an active element, in addition to metal. The metal is recycled; while the ceramic substrate is melted down, thus enabling the metal it contains to be recovered. The active element is also recycled via smelting.

Textiles
Incinerated and turned into energy.

Tyres and rubber
Tyres can be reconditioned, turned into blasting mats or road cones or sent for energy recovery in the cement industry. Rubber of other kinds, such as hoses and gaskets, is turned into energy.

Re-use = sold as spare parts or re-manufactured and sold with a warranty
Recycling = melted down or cleaned to be turned into new products
Energy recovery = incineration that results in energy for smelting plants, the cement industry or district heating. Dangerous substances are neutralized with chemical additives and treatment

(Source: Volvo Trucks)

So, whilst the used car dealers, half-cut shops and scrap metal dealers are doing their part to “recycle” the old cars in the country, it is certainly not enough to “clear away” the old cars for upcoming newer models. Of course, the more viable thing to do is to improve on our public transportation system and get more people to use the public transport than cars. But we will still be faced with disposed old cars.

So, as how Volvo been working on recycling of its trucks since the mid 1990s, will the local car assemblers namely Proton and Perodua look into active recycling of its cars? After all, if they are able to recycle the parts of the old cars, it can be re-used in their newer cars. Cost of the recycling may take some good calculations and profitability may be slim. But what is more important is that we would able to recycle the old cars and preserves our environment.

Further, with active participation of the car manufacturers themselves, the secondary recycling industry may just get the boost they need to invest for more recycling centers, technology and increased rate of recycle.  So, instead of focusing on designing electric and hybrid cars, let’s focus on recycling of the older cars first.

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