The initial stage involves the removal of coolant, anti-freeze, engine oil and any remaining fuel. But it’s batteries that present recyclers with the biggest challenge because they contain so much toxic material – including around 10kg of lead and 2kg-3kg of sulphuric acid. The lead is melted down, refined and resold, while the plastic battery casings are processed into pellets that can be used to produce new goods. Even the acid waste can be refined and used in the manufacture of gypsum for the construction industry.
Just like batteries, tyres contain a wide range of toxic substances, which makes recycling them a highly specialised job. So once the tyres have been removed, most scrap yards (now known as Authorised Treatment Facilities) send them to a specialist recycling centre where they’re fed into a shredder that separates the rubber from the steel belts and beads. Steel is a highly sought-after commodity and there’s a thriving market for recycled and reclaimed material, while the rubber can either be burned as a tyre-derived fuel, or broken up into rubber crumb for use in construction and astro-turf sports pitches.
Many car components can be removed and sold as replacement parts, so all valuable items will be stripped before further processing. Windows and windscreens are also taken out, along with bumpers and plastic fascias. Reusable car parts may find their way onto the shelves of second-hand parts retailers, or in some cases, broken down for their valuable raw materials, such as copper, tin and lead. Catalytic converters are highly prized by scrap merchants and recyclers because of the precious metals they contain, including copper, palladium and platinum.
When all that’s left of your car is an empty carcass, this is shredded or pulverised into pieces. A powerful magnet extracts the metals, and a vacuum ‘hoovers up’ light materials like plastic fragments and fabrics. Then a ‘heavy media’ stage separates what’s left into ‘floats’ and ‘doesn’t float.” Anything with a reuse value is collected, processed and sold, while any remaining foam or rubber is converted into combustible gas, which can be burned to generate electricity.