Search This Blog

Friday, June 29, 2007

Scrapyards fight bad rap, enjoy boom

When most people think of automobile scrapyards, they envision piles of dirty, junked cars, the grime of oil and engine fuels, and the risk of environmental damage that comes with car crushing.

Such assumptions are misguided, said Larry Brown, vice president of Jerry Brown's Auto Parts Center in Queensbury.

Brown insists the industry, which has experienced a significant boom in recent years, provides services that benefit the community on several levels, including the environment.

The obvious benefits of the industry are an alternative for the cost of new car parts and the removal of junk cars.

"We're the competition for dealerships and an alternative for expensive new parts," Brown said. "When we get a car, we inventory what's reusable: mirrors, glass, engines, tires, doors, batteries -- almost everything. Often, it's a savings of 50 percent of the cost of a new part for our customers."

When Brown's company doesn't have a specific part, Brown said the online network of salvage yards allows him access to more than 2,000 shops' inventories in the United States and Canada.

"I'll know within seconds when and where I can get a part, if I don't already have it here," he said.

Jerry DeLuca, executive director of the Automotive Recyclers Association of New York, said there are 743 automobile dismantlers in New York "providing a place for end-of-life cars to go."

In 1997, more than 4.7 million cars were recycled nationwide, according to the association.

"We take one to two junk cars a day from people who live nearby. Those are cars that would just sit there otherwise," Cornell said.

Brown said his company recycles around 1,500 vehicles per year, in addition to the 2,000 kept on site.

Additional benefits that result from the industry are reduced insurance premiums and reduced costs of metal.

Brown said the vast majority of his junk cars are purchased through insurance auctions, which allows the insurance companies to recover costs and therefore offer more competitive premiums. Cornell said he purchases 10 to 15 cars per week at the auctions.

The discount price of used parts also allows insurance companies to repair insured vehicles for less, which translates into lower premiums, Brown said.

"Ninety percent of my business is wholesale (to companies like insurance firms)," he said.

The recycling of scrap metal means a reduction in the cost of materials needed for construction or for building new cars and ultimately results in reduced need for natural resources.

DeLuca said the demand for steel has reached an all time high worldwide.

"Automobile recyclers supply steel and many other metals that are recycled and used in construction," DeLuca said. "Even copper piping is cheaper because of what's recovered from old cars."

"There isn't much metal that's not in high demand," Brown added.

And that demand is what has driven the boom in the scrapyard industry.

Brown said that, in 1995, his company was receiving about $18 per ton of crushed cars, whereas in February, he received $165 per ton.

And it's the industry boom that Brown partially blames for the industry's bad reputation as an environmental hazard.

"Crushed cars are the by-product of my business," Brown said. "We recycle what we can and crush what we can't. That metal (that we can't recycle) will be recycled elsewhere.

"A lot of people are trying to get into the industry because of the boom and are primarily out for higher weights in crushing. In order make money, you have to turn cars over quickly."

That inexperience, combined with the need for quantity, can lead to sloppiness, Brown said. And that can lead to spills and contamination.

Maureen Wren, spokeswoman with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, said salvage yards are regulated by the DEC, and the biggest risk is groundwater contamination due to petroleum spills.

The DEC requires that all fluids are properly drained to ensure spills don't occur. The industry is also heavily regulated by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, DeLuca said.

Cornell agrees with Brown that the industry has a lot of companies that cut corners to make an extra buck.

"They give us a bad rap," Cornell said. "I live next door to my shop. I drink the water. I have to care about it."

"It's not hard to do this job safely, but you have to care

about the environment," Brown said. "You have to have good housekeeping and organization."

Brown and Cornell said their companies have never had a major spill, despite both being in the second generation of ownership.

Brown, Cornell and DeLuca insist that, when done correctly, the industry actually helps the environment.

The Automotive Recyclers Association reports that 11 million gallons of oil and 6 million tires were recycled nationwide in 1997, in addition to enough steel to produce almost 13 million new vehicles.

"We save energy by reusing parts that would otherwise need to be made brand-new," Brown said. "And even the brand-new parts often have recycled components in them, through the metal that's crushed and sorted."

By Melissa Guay

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ahead of the recycling curve

The name of SGI's car recycling centre creates an image of a dusty junkyard filled with piles of rusting, crushed vehicles guarded by a mangy dog and squirrely old man wielding a shotgun.

It isn't the case. SGI's Salvage Centres are state of the art, processing more than 16,000 cars per year in Saskatchewan. The Regina location handles more than 5,500 cars per year.

Officials invited guests to tour the facility Tuesday to see how it works and what SGI is doing to protect the environment. Over the past six decades, it has recycled more than seven million pounds of steel, 95,000 litres of oil and other fluids, 1,400 pounds of freon gas and 300 grams of mercury.

The income from the resale of salvaged and recycled goods was $5.6 million last year. The money raised goes back into the auto fund, keeping insurance rates low, according to officials."We were recycling mercury switches for six or seven years and 10 to 15 years for freon before it was made mandatory. We try to stay ahead of the legislation," said Al Ripplinger, the branch manager for the Regina salvage centre.

When cars are written off in accidents by SGI, they are taken to the salvage yard at 460 Fleet St., in the northeast area of Regina.

Vehicles are assessed before a small army of mechanics and technicians tears them apart. Oil is drained from motors and freon is sucked out of the coolant systems. If oil isn't recycled properly it could contaminate the soil, and it's illegal to allow the free venting of freon.

The salvage yard itself is massive. The parts storage room resembles a weapons locker. Row upon row of salvaged parts hang from hooks, tagged, sorted and registered in a province-wide parts computer database.

The garage is filled with the whine of power drills and electrical saws. Car doors are stacked in rows, with windows still inside them.

Drains in the floors are designed with a two-part filtration system to prevent any spilled fluids from getting into the sewer system. The floors look clean, the concrete is gray and not stained black with oil.

"Everything is kept very neat and clean because of environmental regulations. You can't have a big mess," said Ripplinger.
SGI also uses special containers for shipping parts to prevent fluids from spilling during transport. In the past, engine cores used to be loaded into the back of an open truck. A trail of oil would be left behind as it drove away, according to Ripplinger.
"I can't believe how much contamination there must have been in the soil," he said.

The big goal is recycling to save the environment but Ripplinger has seen some amazing sights come through his shop. He said one of the most memorable was a photo of car that hit a moose. The moose's head was on the trunk and the hind legs were on the hood of the car.

"The passengers walked away from that one," said Ripplinger. "The moose was huge. I have no idea where (the passengers) would have fit after that."

Matthew Barton, The Regina Leader-Post. Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2007