From Your Car To The Hardware Store - How Some Of Our Metal Is Made - Metal by the Metre
It’s a familiar story.

The old faithful wagon has been spluttering and emitting strange smells for a little while now. Rego is due in a week. Offering it for free to the 17 year old kid looking for his first car ended in rejection, so there was only one thing left to do: You call Ryan. Ryan would pay $150, pick the car up from you that day and whisk it away to a foreign land: the Scrap Car Yard. You might feel a tingling of guilt and maybe even a little recklessness creep in because you’re abandoning your old faithful car to some angry machine who is going to turn it into a metal box.

Yep, it happens pretty regularly. In fact, around half a million cars are disposed of every year in Australia. So, where exactly does all that metal end up? Turns out it’s quite the transformative journey.

De-pollution:

The first stage is de-pollution. This is to get rid of any hazardous materials – mostly fluids – that can cause a whole lot of damage if not dealt with properly. After this the battery, the tyres, and the $2 coin that you dropped in that impossible to reach gap (ending up in the end of year Christmas party fund jar no doubt) are removed.

Then we get to the metal:

A bit about metal: There are ferrous metals – essentially, metals without iron, and non-ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metals have been used since the beginning of civilisation. The discovery of copper in 5,000 BC marked the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Copper Age. The later invention of bronze started the Bronze Age. The use of ferrous metals began around 1200 BC – the beginning of the Iron Age.

It’s mainly ferrous metals that are found in the shell of the car.

Most ferrous metals are magnetic, so magnets are the key in separating out the different metals from the remaining plastics etc that still remain in the shell of the car. They are then ‘de-tinned’. Cars have a thin layer of tin to prevent rusting, to get rid of this they are dipped in hot caustic soda. After this, a truck takes the now cubed hunk of metal to a metals furnace (or smelter). Here, at extremely high temperatures, the metals are melted into liquid form to be poured into large blocks of solid metal – called ingots. These ingots can then be shipped to companies where they will be melted again to be used for any number of manufacturing purposes: a steel bolt perhaps, or a flat sheet of metal. The kind of things you might find at your local hardware store, for example!

Why is it a good idea to ‘wreck’ your car?

Your old automobile doesn’t just disappear into the ground, in fact around 85% of it is recyclable! It turns out taking your car to the wreckers is actually pretty good for the environment too, especially compared to many other forms of waste. Metal is one of the most recyclable materials we know. Recycling scrap metals means minimising the need for mining for natural resources, as well as saving on energy in production and reducing Co2 emissions. Not to mention lightening the load for our overcrowded landfill sites too.

Here’s an interesting fact, if you had left an empty can of coke in the car and (for some strange reason) they decided to recycle that can, that would make enough energy to power a TV for three hours! In the specific case of recycled steel (the main metals found in cars) there are huge reductions in air pollution, water usage and water pollution, and, far less energy is used to produce it than when producing steel from iron ore. It’s equally as strong as new steel made from iron ore, and just to make the deal a little bit sweeter, it’s cheaper to manufacture too.

Metal an amazing material. One of the main reasons it’s so incredible is its ability to be recycled. So the next time you recycle metal – whether it be an old faithful car or last night’s beer cans – you might just be repurchasing it on your next trip to the local hardware store.