How Are Cars Recycled?

 Since the government introduced legislation targeting 95% of a car to be recycled when scrapped, technology to re-use the materials has continued to advance. With modern cars now made of multiple materials of different grades, it is no easy task to repurpose so much of the vehicle.

 Since the government introduced legislation targeting 95% of a car to be recycled when scrapped, technology to re-use the materials has continued to advance. With modern cars now made of multiple materials of different grades, it is no easy task to repurpose so much of the vehicle. As you can’t leave your old car by the side of the road with your bins and expect it to be taken, so how is so much of a car recycled? We explore the technical process undertaken when you take your car to the recycling centre.


1. Removing Tyres & Batteries
Authorised treatment facilities (ATF) are the only places in the UK that are legally allowed to dispose of used cars. There are 1500 of these facilities across the country and used cars need to be processed here as these facilities can deal with hazardous materials like oil, fuel and batteries. When you take your car to an ATF they will provide you with a certificate of destruction to prove they have disposed of the vehicle properly.

The first stage of recycling a car involves removing all of the tyres and batteries. Tyres are easily recycled whereas batteries require special equipment to extract the reusable elements. As part of removing the battery, all other harmful fluids including fuel and oil has to be drained from the car. Some part of a car can be stripped and kept for spare parts if they still work; engines and gearboxes are commonly held onto for parts. Once this is complete, the vehicle is ready to be shredded.


2. Shedding and Magnets
Now that the car has been made safe after the removal of the hazardous fluids and a certificate of destruction has been raised, it can be added to the scrap pile. Here, the car can be broken down by huge shredders, some of which can shred a car every 15 seconds. When parts of the car are small enough they drop through the grate they are shredded on down to a conveyor belt.

The conveyor belts carry the shredded material under magnets which seek out iron, steel and other metals while leaving the plastic and other non-ferrous materials. As so much of a car is made of steel (approximately 70%) this separation of the two materials is vital in recycling 95% of the car and reclaiming tonnes of steel every year. Once the metals have been separated a powerful vacuum is employed to collect lighter materials such as foam, plastic and rubber. Before the new legislation, these materials would often be sent to landfill. But, with a £80 per tonne charge to do so now, new methods are being used to recycle this waste.


3. Salvage Spare Metal
All that remains now are non-ferrous metals and heavy plastics. To sort these, a process known as “heavy media” is adopted, where operatives change the density of the water these materials are held in to see which float. This works for separating copper, aluminium and other metals, but doesn’t work with heavy plastics as they are made of a number of chemicals. These would also be sent to landfill, but now an extra process called plastic polymers is added to salvage this plastic.


4. Plastic Polymers
This process involves breaking down the remaining plastics back into their original properties. Once in this state, they are moulded into pellets which can be used to make new plastic moulds in future. By doing this an extra 10% of the car can be recycled, as modern cars contain more plastics than before.

Overall, recycling so much of cars and other vehicles has a positive impact on the environment and can also provide financial returns from selling scrap metals and spare parts.


If you are an authorised treatment facility in need of recycling machines that are quality and reliable get in touch with Bronnberg today. Our products range from small cable peelers, which strip insulation from electricity cables to very large scrap balers and shears, so we can cater to all your recycling needs.

How Are Cars Recycled?