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Industry Impact – EcoPOWER

In the case for automotive recycling, it is hard to deny science. Researchers at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute partner with the Automotive Recyclers of Massachusetts to study the positive environmental impact and sustainability of industry. The findings are no surprise.

By Michael Cohen

In the fall of 2017, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) released the results of a study they conducted, called “Assessing the Environmental Impact of Automotive Recyclers of Massachusetts (ARM).” This study is an excellent example of how the ARM partnered with a state educational institution to create the study that validates the entire industry on an environmental level. This study can now be used in legislative, regulatory and lawmaking decisions in the state and as a model for other inspired case studies.

The goals of this study were to understand how much material is recovered, reused, and recycled and how these activities impact the state’s carbon footprint. The report includes the understanding of how environmental hazards, such as waste oil, are processed. The primary method of data collection comprised of site visits for collecting information on the number of cars processed, the type and volume of parts recovered and the amount of hazardous materials that are safely processed. The difference in carbon footprint between processing recycled materials and using primary raw materials have been analyzed.

By reclaiming auto parts for re-use, then recycling the steel and aluminum left in vehicles at the end of their usable life, Massachusetts auto recyclers annually reduce the state’s carbon footprint by at least 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, according to the WPI study.

“Our members are focused on recycling every day, but this is the first time we have verified the collective positive impact our industry has on the Massachusetts environment,” said Scott Robertson Jr., a director of ARM and a member of the Executive Committee of the Automotive Recyclers Association, which represents the industry globally. “We are fortunate to have the world-class expertise of WPI and the Metal Processing Institute here in Massachusetts to take on this analysis.”

The study was sponsored by ARM and conducted independently by four WPI seniors – Muhammad Siddiq, Richard Coffin, Matthew Puksta and Aimilios Tachiaos – as their Major Qualifying Project to complete their degrees in mechanical engineering.

“What the automotive recyclers are doing is saving materials, saving energy and impacting the environment in a positive way, thus adding value to the economy of the state” said Professor Brajendra Mishra, PhD (seen at right) director of the Metal Processing Institute at WPI and advisor for the study.

“We thought it was an important technical topic,” said Mishra, whose research team conducted site visits, learned the processes and procedures of auto recyclers, and considered the reusability of auto parts to make significant conclusions on the study. “What the automobile recyclers are doing is saving materials, saving energy, and impacting the environment in a positive way. It is a societal need. It is a sustainability need. If we don’t recycle, society will not be sustainable 30, 40, 50 years down the road.”

Through intensive site visits and a survey of other ARM member companies, the WPI team examined operations at auto recycling facilities across Massachusetts and documented their processes for reclaiming auto parts, recycling metals and capturing fluids like oil, gasoline and antifreeze to process properly. The study found that an estimated 165,000 vehicles are recycled by ARM members in a typical year. The team then calculated the energy saved by re-using auto parts from those vehicles, like engines and transmissions, versus manufacturing new parts. They also calculated the energy saved by recycling the steel and aluminum left in the vehicles, rather than mining ores and refining new metals. That analysis showed 2.2 million tons of the leading greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) was saved by reducing the need to refine new materials and manufacture new auto parts. Preventing that much CO2 from being released to the atmosphere equates to:

By putting metals and useable parts back into the automotive supply chain, the ARM companies help drive a “circular economy” in auto manufacturing, Professor Mishra said. “We make a car. We use a car, and we completely recycle the car so the materials stay in the system, in a circle, and we want to do that for as long as we can.”

Fostering a circular economy across many industries is vital for the long-term sustainability of our society, Professor Mishra said. “The total primary resources available on the Earth are going down. The quality of these resources are going down. Whereas, with the increase in population, the demand for materials is increasing, so we have no other choice but to recycle these materials and put them back into the system,” he said.

The ARM is an affiliate chapter of the Automotive Recyclers Association, representing licensed companies across Massachusetts that employ more than 3,000 people. See the full study and a video interview with Professor Mishra:

Michael Cohen is a Principal at Cohen Partners where he leads the strategic communications practice and is a principal in the firm’s business development practice. Michael has more than 25 years of experience as a journalist, media relations and strategic communications professional.