The Final Road Trip

With nearly 200 million cars and light trucks criss-crossing America's roads, how much does the average car contribute to municipal solid waste?

Probably not as much as you would think, since more than two-thirds of an automobile body can be recycled. In fact, more than 12 million tons of steel were recycled from cars in 1996, according to the Steel Recycling Institute, Pittsburgh.

And, as residents in Orlando and surrounding Orange County, Fla., the site of 1997's National Recycling Congress, can attest, many automobile components can be recycled into new products.

After being processed at one of the more than 12,000 auto dismantlers throughout North America, the auto's remains are crushed and delivered to a ferrous scrap processing yard, such as Orlando's Commercial Shredding & Recycling Co.

The flattened hulk is fed into a shredder, which crushes and rips it into fist-sized chunks which travel along a conveyer belt where the steel and iron pieces are separated magnetically and stockpiled for shipment to the steel industry to be reconstituted.

Scrap processors normally sort other metals like aluminum and magnesium manually or mechanically. The remaining bits of glass, plastic and textiles - about one-third of the vehicle's weight - typically head to the landfill.

Orange County residents also directly recycle used parts of their cars. For example, they can place up to four tires curbside each week for pick-up on their "large item day." Approximately 30,000 tires roll into the tire cell at the county landfill each month - the majority of which is generated by area businesses.

At the landfill, derimmed tires are stored in the tire cell. For the past two years, these tires have been shipped quarterly to Auburndale, Fla., were they are processed into tire-derived fuel and combusted in Oak Brook, Ill.-based Wheelabrator Ridge Energy Inc.'s waste-to-energy plant.

"We only receive a portion of the waste tires generated in Orange County," says Paula Brown, an environmental specialist in the county's solid waste department. "Most go to local companies in the tire disposal business and a significant percentage are salvaged and sold overseas as used."

When there weren't as many recycling options available, the county had some tires shred to 4" pieces for re-use as a landfill daily cover and others sent to a cement kiln in Brooksville, Fla., to be used as fuel.

Other regions of the Sunshine State harvest the steel from tires as well. For example, since 1993, Jacksonville's American Tire Recyclers Inc., has accepted scrap tires from tire collectors/haulers, counties, cities and residents. (Haulers drop off approximately 50,000 tires each month.) The tires are fed into three shredders that reduce them to 211/42" chips, which are then fed into two granulators which churn them down to 31/48" or smaller.

In the granulators, a series of magnets separates steel from rubber. A car tire yields approximately four pounds of steel, which is shipped to a local ferrous scrap yard to prepare for recycling.

The remaining rubber is converted into a variety of new products. For example, Orange County's Clariona Park equestrian arena, where pre-Olympic trials are held, is lined with 200 tons of American Tire Recyclers' 31/48" chips and a couple of county parks are lined with RubberStuff, a 11/44" rubber particle that is used underneath slides and other playground equipment for safety and shock absorption. The rubber can be turned into sports turf and asphalt paving as well.