After a car’s “check engine” light winks on for the last time, there’s a place where the expired vehicle can be reduced to fist-sized chunks of unrecognizable metal in less time than it takes to read this sentence.
The action end of this metal-salvaging operation sounds like a mechanical dog chewing an iron bone, steams with the heat of metal being ripped apart, and suggests a post-apocalyptic scene. Now and then a tire explodes, with the boom muffled by heavy shielding.
Still, there’s an efficient elegance in the way sport utility vehicles, minivans, sedans and other vehicles are treated at the end of their lives, on the cusp of the Earth-friendly reincarnation process known as recycling.
And the stomach of the recycling business growls with a worldwide appetite for metal, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
The vehicle shredder at Trademark Metals Recycling LLC —unlike a paper shredder that relies on blades to slice documents into ribbons — swings an array of 225-pound hammers to pulverize car doors, engines and frames, which emerge as palm-sized confetti. Operators call it the “Hammer Mill.”
“It will shred a car or even a school bus in about seven seconds,” said Brian Hazlewood, the salvage yard’s general manager.
At the recycling industry’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., topics included ways to foil metal theft; how to handle used electronic products; and tips for detecting gauges, cameras and other equipment that emit radiation. As with other heavy industries, recyclers want to do their work better, faster, cheaper and safer.
Plastic, paper, aluminum, copper, lead, zinc and tires are prized for recycling, but steel is the real plum. Last year, more than 75 million tons were processed nationwide by recyclers, which are competitive gatherers of the metal.