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Help save planet, one clunker at a time

Recycling: Retire Your Ride program has proven to be an effective way to get rid of old vehicles and make some money at the same time.

We all know that driving a gas-guzzling, smog-belching car is bad for the environment.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how much damage that old clunker can do when it gets packed off to the wreckers?

Consider this: Most vehicles built before 2003 contain a neat little gadget called a “mercury switch” that controls the light in the trunk. On average, each of those switches contains .85 grams of mercury.

And how toxic is mercury?

According to Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association executive director Steve Fletcher, it takes just one gram of mercury to contaminate a 20-hectare lake — and render its fish inedible — for an entire year.

“We’ve pulled about 100,000 of those mercury switches out of vehicles since the program began,” Fletcher says.

The program Fletcher is referring to is called Retire Your Ride. Started in 2009 and set to end March 31, the federally-funded program has safely recycled about 120,000 vehicles from across Canada.

By offering cash incentives to consumers ($300 cash or up to $490 off the price of a new vehicle), and by working with accredited recyclers, the program aims to save the planet one car at a time.

“We’ve prevented the release of thousands of tonnes of smog-forming emissions . . . so we’ve been making a big impact on air quality,” says program director Rebecca Spring. “And by making sure the vehicles are responsibly recycled, we’ve been able to prevent the release of (toxic) liquids, fluids, oils, anti-freeze and mercury from entering into the environment.”

To qualify for the program, a vehicle must have been made in 1995 or earlier, and been on the road and insured for the past six months.

During a demonstration of the recycling process at Corey Auto Wreckers on Gore Rd., some surprising facts emerge. For example, a recent study conducted by BC AirCare tested 133 1995 model year or older vehicles and found that, on average, these older vehicles were 39 times more polluting than vehicles manufactured since 2004.

And here’s another eye-opener: More than 80% of an entire vehicle by weight can be reused, remanufactured or recycled.

Of course, not all auto wreckers dispose of their old cars conscientiously. But inventory manager Dan Edgar points out that every vehicle is responsibly recycled at Corey Auto Wreckers. Indeed, the program resulted in two new jobs at the east-end yard.

At Corey Auto Wreckers, all the fuel, antifreeze and washer fluid is reused in the company’s own vehicles. And while 30 or 40 years ago automobile oil was regularly spread onto gravel roads to keep dust down, today the oil is collected and often re-refined into a synthetic blend, or used to fuel kilns and boilers.

So far, more than 920 vehicles have been responsibly recycled through the Retire Your Ride program in the London area.

If you want to do the right thing with your old clunker, you can learn more details at

Ian Gillespie, London Free Press