Pounds of car
September 2, 2022 9:06 AM   Subscribe

How many pounds of end-of-life motor vehicles aren't recycled, by year?
posted by aniola to Science & Nature (3 answers total)
Did some poking around and couldn't find a answer, but I will warn in advance that much of the internet claims that 95% of automobiles are recycled, which is a incorrect understanding of this NYT article, which says that in the future, 95% of the materials in a car (by weight) may be able to be reclaimed in the recycling process — that's as of 2005, so I have no idea what it is now. (It's possible that by happenstance, 95% of cars that are end-of-life are scrapped and recycled, I just haven't found a credible source for that, and it seems unlikely).

Here is a EPA report which seems to suggest that there is no global data on this:
Every year, vehicles that reach the end of their useful life end up as discarded vehicles. Often these vehicles are abandoned or stockpiled at poorly managed scrap yards. While it is unclear how many vehicles reach the end of their useful life annually, there are periodic regional or country-specific reports that provide estimates of discarded or stockpiled vehicles. These stockpiled vehicles have reached the end of their useful lives, but have not been properly processed for recovery of the reusable or recyclable materials or disposal of waste components. Without proper processing, scrapping and recycling, the number of vehicles will only increase year after year. Once vehicles reach the end of their useful life, they can be a liability and owners might abandon them on open land. Local governments are often left to deal with these vehicles and the public health, environmental and financial burdens associated with them.
posted by wesleyac at 9:47 AM on September 2, 2022

Response by poster: A bounty of assumptions follow:

"World vehicle population" seems to be a search term. It looks like there's about 1.4 billion motor vehicles in use today. I'm didn't find how much the average motor vehicle weighs, but it looks like it has been increasing for decades. Something said 2 tons for cars. I assume "motor vehicles" includes everything from motorcycles to the biggest trucks and cargo ships, so maybe that's a decent median? Sounds like 5% not recycled would be a good conservative estimate.

1.4 billion * 2 tons * 5% = 280,000,000,000 lbs of unrecycled motor vehicle waste for all vehicles being driven this year might be within the ballpark? The average car in the US is about 12 years old, so I'll again assume that's a median for all motor vehicles? I groan at the US-centrickness but I also shrug at it because I'm looking for ballparks and the US does have a statistically significant number of the world's motor vehicles. Anyway, so divide by twelve.

23,333,333,333 pounds per year. 25 billion pounds per year. 11,666,666 tons to make it sound small. 800 billion ounces to make it sound big.

I'm still having trouble imagining it. Bored Panda was no help. What does 25 billion pounds of end-of-life motor vehicles (give or take) even look like?
posted by aniola at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2022

Your numbers seem within reasonableness. I don't have a cite, but I have heard the same 2 ton number for the weight of cars.

I don't know what is meant by "recycled". Does that include "reused" years later. I had a 30+ year old car that every once in a while I needed a part for. My first call was to a local junk yard to see if they had one that I could come scavenge. You need a replacement door latch for a 30 yo car, you buy the entire door from the local yard. When I first started fixing the car up, I purchased a non running one to be used for parts (parts or donor car). The carcass eventually went to a scrap metal guy who likely sold it to a recycling place. But that was years (decades) after the used and useful life of the vehicle.

My gut says that 95% may be recyclable, but way less actually gets processed and recycled. Regardless, the numbers are huge and staggering.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:03 PM on September 2, 2022

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