The word “recycling” calls to mind little blue bins and green energy, but not all recycling actually helps the environment at all. And if you’ve ever peeked behind the barbed wire curtains of most auto “recycling” yards, then you know there’s nothing green about them. Most Americans don’t have the auto know-how to dispose of an old junk car themselves, so they hand it over or sell it to a junkyard. Some of these junkyards will even tell you they “recycle” auto scrap and broken down cars, but that’s just doublespeak for auto wrecking, not auto recycling.
If you want to get rid of a junk car with a clean, green conscience, then working with a green auto recycling yard makes all the difference. After a decade working with auto junkyards, I’ve seen that the only green part of most yards’ process is the neon-green chemical runoff dripping into ugly little puddles under the cars. That might sound like an exaggeration, but unfortunately, it’s a serious threat to the environment. In some cases, local and state governments have even had to step in to protect the public.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, “The primary environmental concern at motor vehicle recycling facilities is the potential for groundwater and surface water contamination due to mishandling of vehicular fluids, including gasoline, diesel fuel, oil, transmission fluid, power steering and brake fluids, gear oil, and mineral spirits.”
Many Americans could use the extra cash that comes from selling a junk car, while other just want it out of their garage. Your sketchy, neighborhood junkyard will be only too happy to help you get it out of sight and out of mind. But if you’re concerned at all about protecting the environment, then you should take care to work only with auto recycling yards that take the proper precautions to recycle responsibly. That’s why the Department of Environmental Services says that, “When operations are well controlled and best management practices are implemented at a motor vehicle recycling facility, the risk of releasing contaminants is significantly reduced.”
So what are the biggest dangers when auto recycling goes wrong?
- Petroleum Hydrocarbons: Gasoline, diesel, and motor oil are highly toxic, and not just to humans. If they end up in groundwater, or runoff into nearby creeks, lakes, or rivers, they can hurt both nearby humans and our aquatic neighbors under the sea. Usually, fuels either leak into the ground or wash away in storm water.
- Mercury and Other Heavy Metals: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Within the United States, an estimated 10 tons of highly toxic mercury are released to the environment each year from mercury-containing light switches during the shredding and crushing of old vehicles.” And if you’re a sushi lover, mercury can even accumulate in fish and shellfish, putting your beloved salmon rolls at risk. Other heavy metals like lead and arsenic also pose a serious threat to ecosystems.
- Acids: Old batteries are the main source of dangerous acids. If a junkyard isn’t careful, battery acid can contaminate soil chemistry, damaging both humans and the plants we depend on for food.
So how do you know if an auto recycling yard is on the level? In the 21st century, we’ve seen a growing awareness of the threat posed by junkyards with lax safety regulations, and blue and red states alike have helped their junkyards go green. For example, Vermont law requires junkyards to comply with strict safety regulations, so find out what requirements your state places on local junkyards. If there aren’t any official regulations in place—and there often aren’t—then always do research online to find out if a specific junkyard has been cited for environmental violations in your area. Occasionally, the EPA will cite auto recyclers for messing with local ecosystems or even contaminating water supplies.
In general, the EPA relies on junkyards to regulate themselves. That means the most eco-conscious junkyards will have compliance programs already in place to make sure your junk car is disposed of right. Before you sell to a junkyard, ask them what kind of steps they take to prevent damage to the environment. Plus, check out their website or blog to find out if they make green practices and recycling a priority.
But there are also steps consumers can take to ensure that rusted old junk car in the backyard doesn’t end up poisoning the ground water. For example, the gasoline additive MtBE was banned from modern fuel because of the threat it poses to the environment. Older cars may still contain traces of MtBE, so always take care to recycle oil and properly dispose of leftover gasoline in rusted old vehicles. Never throw old auto parts like batteries into the trash; a green junkyard or recycler will know the safest way to get rid of it. If you’ve got a junk car taking up space in your yard or garage, then it could be leaking dangerous toxins into the air or soil, right under your family’s noses.
And if you’re looking for the TL;DR version:
- 1) Do research to find out if a junkyard has been cited by environmental regulators for not following proper safety procedures
- 2) Check an auto junker’s website to look for evidence that best practices are a priority for them. Look for blog posts or information about green energy and recycling
- 3) Ask! If you can’t visit a junkyard in person, then ask them about their environmental compliance programs
Finding an ethical, green auto recycler in your area can make sure that old junk car gets recycled without causing any damage to the environment—and help put some extra cash in your pocket, too.
Junk Car Medics works with auto salvage yards across the USA to provide customers an easy, honest way to sell their junk cars for cash to reputable auto junk yards.