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Driving A Trend

When people think of innovative green companies, they may not immediately think of the automotive industry, but auto manufacturers have been designing with end-of-life in mind for decades.

“Cars have been recycled for a very long time,” notes Dan Adsit, manager of vehicle environmental engineering for Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich. “We are very aware of what materials we use and how to bring them back at the end of a vehicle’s life.”

Ford has strict requirements for recyclability in vehicle designs that starts at the drawing board and cascades across the development process. From using recycled materials in new vehicles and minimizing the use of restricted substances, to establishing processes and networks to dismantle, sort and repurpose up to 95 percent of any vehicle at the end of life, the auto industry has gotten end-of-life strategies down to a science.

And a big part of its success is industry members’ willingness to collaborate with the competition.

“We believe that collaboration is the way to get things done,” says Claudia Duranceau senior research recycling engineer at Ford. “It allows us to be proactive, to work together to phase out materials, and to make sure we don’t duplicate our efforts.”
Even in such a competitive market, all of the players in this industry agree that when it comes to end-of-life processes, there is more money to be made working together rather than apart. And the auto manufacturers benefit from being able to reclaim those materials for use in future vehicles.

“When we recycle cars, you can’t tell where the material came from,” says Duranceau.

Ford works with the other major automotive players and regulators to help develop networks of dismantlers and to define processes for removing fluids, collecting and redistributing all of valuable materials, and shredding what remains for use as landfill covers to reduce dust and vermin.

Adsit notes that end-of-life dismantling services are privately-owned, not by auto manufacturers, but by independent entrepreneurs. Ford encourages these entrepreneurs and helps get them off the ground in order to build a stronger network and improve the efficiency of the material collection process.

“There is inherent value in any material, but you have to have enough quality in the same place to run an efficient recycling process,” Adsit points out. “In the automotive industry, we all have the same end-of-life issues with our products. When we all get together and pool our resources to deal with those materials, we get the biggest bang for our buck.”