Printer Friendly

The road ahead: scrap recyclers glimpse their future in today's vehicles and appliances.

Just as the U.S. government can tell you today the exact race and sex of every graduate of the high school class of 2020 (they were born two years ago), so too a preview of the recycling stream of 2005 and 2010 is simply a matter of looking at what was manufactured a few years ago and projecting its life cycle.

Major challenges face shredders who want to recover more marketable material from the scrap auto and appliance streams. But doing so not only puts more dollars in the in-box, it also reduces the amount of shredder fluff that has to be landfilled at $25 to $60 per ton.

More efficient recovery is the name of the game for firms like Galamba Metals Group LLC, Kansas City, Mo. "We just put in a new downstream system," says John Morgan, director of marketing for nonferrous sales. Upgraded in July, the new system does a better job of cleaning the metal, he says.

"It increased our overall speed," Morgan remarks. While the shredder works at the same speed, the downstream part of the line now can keep up with the shredder's capacity.

Shredders like Galamba have noticed a number of changes over the past couple of years. They see more plastics in appliances. While some auto manufacturers are going to aluminum block engines or aluminum in the hood, others are going back to steel.

Morgan notes that shredders sees more chrome pieces in wheels--which can incur a discount if it exceeds the contract percentage. All of this only emphasizes the need for improved sorting.

Improvements are coming. Shredder operators can look for at least two new technologies for recovering a larger fraction of automobiles on the horizon.

TWO NEW TECHNOLOGIES. The first group of improvements will come in current separation processes. More effective systems for stainless recovery based on high-speed air jets are making their way onto the market. While most recyclers use multiple eddy currents to capture the nonferrous fraction and clean it up as well as they can, shredder plant advisers like Paul Popovich, president of Innovative Recycling, Solon, Ohio, see more effective systems coming into play.

"Typical magnets [alone] are not sufficient," Popovich says. "What are required are high-intensity magnets and high-powered air currents that will remove the metal from the fluff in the final waste stream." In such a system, the air blows out the metal, typically stainless steel, as the material moves over a splitter.

Popovich predicts the next wave in material separation will be some type of high-speed spectrograph. "The spectrograph will capture the metals and segregate them," he explains.

Currently, high-speed spectrographs are used in ore processing. However, ore processing is somewhat easier than running a spectrograph on a recycling line, because mines generally scan for one or two types of metal, not a whole gamut of materials.

SKIN FLOTATION. Another development is called "skin flotation." Ronald Kobler, president of Recovery Plastics International (RPI), Salt Lake City, Utah, developed a skin flotation process to separate plastics from automotive shredder residue. Skin flotation involves adding specific chemicals to plastics immersed in a hot water bath. Each of these chemicals will react only with a particular plastic. Air bubbles in the bath attach themselves to the plastic and float the material to the top. The plastic is then skimmed off the top of the water.

The project was the result of the Vehicle Recycling Partnership (VRP), begun by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors in 1998. The goal was to develop a method for recovering more of the materials in end-of-life vehicles. While the initial focus was on plastics, it turned out that the skin flotation process increased the recovery of nonferrous metals and other materials.

That led to an effort to show that the plastics recovered meet industry specifications and can be recycled.

It may well be that works, too. In fact, the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia gave its 2002 Environmentalist of the Year Award to DaimlerChrysler Corp., Auburn Hills, Mich., for the car recycling process it developed with RPI. Chrysler's CARE-II (Concepts for Advanced Recycling and Environmental) Program was cited for its success in sorting and separating various plastics.

The CARE-II program focused on increasing recovery of automobiles from 75 percent to 95 percent by weight. As part of CARE II, two Jeep Grand Cherokees were retrofitted with 54 parts made with recycled plastic, including carpet padding, glove boxes, door trim molding, exterior body molding and fender liners.

THE AUTO STREAM. While Kobler says that tomorrow's car will likely have more--not less--plastic, William Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute, Pittsburgh, disputes what he calls "the perception that plastics and aluminum are growing at the expense of steel." He notes that the steel and stainless component of the typical family vehicle has remained around 55 percent for the past 20 years.

"The bottom line is that 80 percent of the curb weight of the typical vehicle is recycled and most of that is metal," Heenan continues.

The percentage of aluminum in auto wheels did increase at the expense of steel, Heenan says, but that has leveled off. For most shredders, the amount of aluminum is a non-issue, as savvy dismantlers remove wheels before sending the scrap to the shredder.

Kobler agrees that about 75 percent of the material ground up is metal. However, he is more interested in the other 25 percent, which typically becomes auto shredder fluff. He says the VRP and DaimlerChrysler programs found 15 percent to 20 percent--about 300 to 500 pounds in new vehicles--becomes shredder residue. "We found that there is about 5 [percent] to 8 percent urethane foam in shredder fluff," he continues. Some urethane foams were shipped to DaimlerChrysler suppliers who turned it into carpet underlay and sound-deadening materials.

"The shredder misses some metal which amounts to about 2 percent in the shredder residue, mostly nonferrous material," Kobler says. Additional recovery comes from the copper in vehicle wiring.

No matter how good the recovery system, a pile of true fluff remains at the end of the shredding. RPI used some of it for sound-deadening and other light-duty applications. It processed the rest into fuel pellets with the same BTU value as wood.

"With this system, you will recover 30 [percent] to 40 percent of the material otherwise destined for the landfill," Kobler says.

Why isn't the skin flotation system being rolled out to scrap yards across America? Kobler says the biggest roadblock is that most shredders handle a range of materials beyond cars. Shredders encounter spikes of toxic materials like PCBs. The Environmental Protection Agency mandates PCBs be kept under two parts pet million in any material sent back into commerce. Kobler says RPI meets the requirement.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy, American Plastics Council, VRP and other parties have begun a five-year initiative to determine how to set up the system.

"This has to be driven by each of the car companies' realizations that they want to be involved, at least in the initial stages, of this industry," Kobler says. He knows it is not seen as part of their core business, but that may change in light of mandatory European recycling requirements.

However, cars are not the only products that could benefit from improved recyclability.

APPLIANCES. Many observers feel that the electronic appliance market is ripe for improvement. For one thing, the manufacturer's name is stamped on every computer, washer, microwave and freezer. For another, the consumer is becoming more aware of the "design for recycling" campaigns that are promoted by groups like the Institue of Scrap Recycling Industries. Finally, many families simply do not want to believe their old microwaves have no value.

It is the latter group that might sound the wake-up call for manufacturers. Most appliance manufacturers have drifted away from using steel encasements on their microwave products in favor of plastic housings. While washers and freezers still have high steel content, shredders are not interested in HDPE casings.

On the other hand, the metal component of ovens, washing machines and refrigerators remains high.

Excluding microwaves, 85 percent to 90 percent of appliances make it to scrap yams, with about 75 percent of their curb weight, primarily copper and steel, being recyclable.

FORWARD THINKING. Autos and appliances will continue to be major focuses at the shredder. Whether manufacturers will design for end-of-life recyclability or whether technology will increase material recovery from products remains to be seen.

Regardless, recyclers can rest assured that the next generation in the business will have the tools grandpa wished he had back in the early part of the 21st century.


Some of West Virginia's recycling grants help that state's appliance recycling efforts. Read more at

The author is a Recycling Today contributing editor based near Cleveland who can be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2004 G.I.E. Media, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Comment:The road ahead: scrap recyclers glimpse their future in today's vehicles and appliances.
Author:Harler, Curt
Publication:Recycling Today
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Previous Article:Corru-Shred targets OCC stream.
Next Article:500 shears & counting.

Related Articles
Burning rubber: tire recyclers hope road contractors will compete with tire-derived fuel consumers to heat up the scrap tire market. (Commodity...
Old friends and new servants. (welcome).
A soft landing. (Welcome ...).
Material differences: makers of appliances and vehicles continue to work new materials into their product mix. (Materials Choices).
Super size it: cost per ton considerations are leading to high-volume baler purchases. (Baler Focus).
Spring thaw: hot prices help Northeast recyclers spring out of winter's deep freeze.
Tuned up: the flow of catalytic converters is running steady as platinum group metals prices gain momentum.
Old into new: a healthy scrap climate and a brisk new appliance market keep white goods flowing.
Newer and better: new technologies are geared to help shredder operators garner higher-value materials for shipping.
Office pace: the generation of recovered fiber from offices continues to stutter as electronic communication and archiving flourish.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters