by Jim MacInnis
The largest piece of refuse you will probably ever throw away is your car. Every year, half a million vehicles are taken off Ontario roads as a result of age or collision damage and sent to auto dismantlers. In most cases, 75 percent of a car’s parts can be recycled; the remainder (mostly plastics, but can also contain mercury and liquid freon from air conditioners) ends up in a landfill. Because no single agency is responsible for monitoring end-of-life vehicle (ELV) dismantling practices in Ontario, it is impossible to determine how much hazardous material from rusting auto parts is released into the air or seeps into the ground and waterways.
Says Steve Fletcher, executive director of the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA), “When you consider the numbers – 500,000 cars times five tires, one battery, two or three mercury switches, litres of various toxic fluids – it’s overwhelming to think of the potential environmental impact of handing over cars to auto dismantlers that simply strip what they want and throw the rest in a crusher.”
The OARA and its 135 member organizations, which make up only a fraction of the thousands of selfdescribed auto dismantlers in Ontario, adhere to a strict code of conduct regarding the treatment of ELVs and reuse or recycle every possible component of a vehicle. “By reusing salvageable parts,” says Fletcher, “you’re providing the customer with a good part for half the price and avoiding having to exploit resources to build the part again from scratch.”
OARA members are attempting to give an industry associated with junkyard landscapes, guard dogs and cigar-smoking toughs a green makeover. David Gold owns and operates Standard Auto Wreckers with his father, Ken. Gold thinks that the environmental impact of ELVs could be lessened considerably by creating an industry standard that all auto dismantlers would have to follow. “The treatment of hazardous fluids throughout much of the industry is an abomination. We use a state-of-theart fluid separation device that drains all fluids from the car so that they can be reused.” Gold, whose company provides customers with a certificate to show that their car has been recycled in full, knows that until legislation is passed regarding the treatment of ELVs, responsibility falls on the public to take a cradle-to-the-grave approach to owning a car. “We’re around, but because our overhead is higher [due to the fluid separation equipment and processes] we can’t always pay what junkyards can for ELVs. We need people to think with their heads instead of their wallets.”