SCIENCE PROJECT

Study Shows Auto Recyclers Help The Environment



PHOTO BY ROB CARLIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Auto recyclers have always known that their businesses help the environment. Now a scientific study has proven it.

The study, “Assessing the Environmental Impact of Automotive Recyclers of Massachusetts,” shows that in Massachusetts alone, auto recyclers prevent 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. This equals the carbon dioxide emissions from 388,516 passenger vehicles annually or the electricity use of 271,938 homes over the course of a year.

The idea to conduct the study came from Scott Robertson, Jr., co-owner of Robertson’s Auto Salvage in Wareham, Mass. Robertson also belongs to his state association’s board of directors and serves on ARA’s executive board.

“I proposed having a carbon footprint study at one of our Automotive Recyclers of Massachusetts (ARM) board meetings,” Robertson said. “I always thought that our industry was good for the environment, but we never had any certainty. I was hoping that we could one day get carbon credits for our industry, or at the very least prove to the public that used auto parts could be a carbon offset.”

 

Student Project

As Robertson does not have a scientific background - his college degree is in finance - he knew he needed some outside help. He brought the idea to communications consultant Michael Cohen, who does communications work for ARM as well as for the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass.

“I was well aware of the university’s research interests and expertise,” Cohen said. “When Scott had the idea of bringing in an outside expert, I immediately put the two together. It was a no-brainer to put them together.”

Four seniors at WPI, working under Professor Brajendra Mishra, the director of WPI’s Metal Processing Institute, independently conducted the study as their Major Qualifying Project to complete their degrees in mechanical engineering.

“WPI is well known for its applied engineering research,” Cohen said. “Every student there, as a requirement for their degree, must conduct a year-long research project in their field. WPI calls these Major Qualifying Projects, and they are typically sponsored by an industry group or a company that has a research question or problem they want WPI to study.”

The WPI team conducted detailed site visits at four ARM member yards in Massachusetts and then did an electronic survey of other yards in the state.

“The students visited our facility, asked tons of questions, and followed up with calls, emails and surveys,” Robertson said.

 

Independent Study

ARM members played no further part in the study, however.

“Other than providing access to their yards and operational data, ARM members had no role in the analysis or drafting of the study,” Cohen said. “The research, analysis and conclusions drawn were done completely by WPI.”

The team found that ARM members recycle approximately 165,500 vehicles in a typical year. The team then calculated the energy saved by re-using parts from those vehicles versus manufacturing new parts. They also calculated the energy saved by recycling the steel and aluminum left in the vehicles rather than mining ore and refining new metals, reaching their conclusion that Massachusetts recyclers save 2.2 million tons of CO2 annually.

“That amount is a major savings,” Cohen said. “It’s a big deal.”

Cohen has been promoting the study’s results to members of the industry as well as to local media.

“We have created a landing page on the ARM site with a summary of the study, a video interview with Professor Mishra explaining the findings, and links to the complete study report,” he said. “We have shared links to these materials widely across social and traditional media outlets.”

 

Proven Benefits

Robertson hopes that the study will open the public’s eyes to the benefits that the auto recycling industry provides, from offering a lower cost option in repairing a car to being good stewards of the environment.

“Our industry has an identity problem, as most of the population have a perception of a dirty, polluting, and dishonest junk yard,” he said. “I hope that this study combined with our awareness campaign will change their perception and open up new business opportunities for our industry.” 

And Robertson is always one to adapt to changes and new opportunities in the industry. Robertson’s Auto Salvage, which has been in business since 1970, now operates a GMC truck dealership and body shop in addition to the salvage yard. Robertson believes his business is the only one in the nation to operate a salvage yard and dealership under one roof.

“Our operating business model has changed over the years to optimize industry trends, our location, and size of our facility,” he said. “The auto recycling industry is incurring challenges to current business models, but they are not alone. Our GMC truck dealership is going through a new business model dictated by General Motors.”

The facility sits on 25 acres, shared between the dealership and salvage yard. The dealership sells about 1,000 new and used vehicles a year, while the yard buys around 3,000 vehicles per year.  The company employs just under 100 workers.

“The automotive industry is in the beginning stages of an evolution,” Robertson said. “We are uncertain how small, family-run dealerships will fit in the future marketplace. Salvage yards and their owners have always survived, and I feel that we will be able to change our business models to capitalize on whatever is thrown at us.”

“Auto recyclers, support industries, and associations more than ever need to work together if we are going to survive in this automotive evolution period,” he added. “If your paycheck depends on automotive recycling, we are on the same team.” 

To watch a video about the WPI study or to read the results, visit armmass.com.

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