50 important facts and statistics about automobile waste in 2022

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance comparison expert
6 JANUARY 2023
17 min read
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As our understanding and appreciation for the world around us grows, so too does our desire to do what we can to protect it. Cars, vans, and other forms of automobiles are among those which can damage the environment if not properly cared for. Last year alone, domestic UK transport CO2 emissions were as high as 107.5 million tonnes.

If you’re concerned about the impact which vehicles can cause, it’s important to remember that steps are being taken to reduce the impact. These range from schemes which promote more environmentally friendly forms of travel, to a dedicated industry which focuses on the reuse and recycling of automobiles and their parts.

In this statistical guide, we’re going to look at 50 of the most important things to know about car and van waste in 2022 – as well as what’s being done to reduce the impact that the automotive industry is having on the wider environment.  

1. Car recycling is one of the largest industries in the US 

Encouragingly, in the United States the automotive recycling industry is one of the largest. Recent reports showed that as many as 140,000 people were employed in the sector, with a total revenue of $32 billion across 9,000 nationwide locations. Across one year it’s estimated as much as 24 million gallons of motor oil and eight million gallons of engine coolant are repurposed as part of this process.

2. 95% of end-of-life vehicles are recycled every year

During an extensive investigation by the EU, it was found that as many as 95.1% of parts from end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) were reused as part of the recycling process. 89.6% of those were completely recycled, with the other 5.5% being repurposed in new or existing vehicles.

3. Europe, US, and Japan dominate the market 

Given those numbers, it’s perhaps no shock that Europe and the US are among the leading names in the world of automotive recycling. These three regions combined account for as much as 70% of the total industry. That’s a huge percentage, given their total share of the ferrous scrap metal market is just 33%. It’s clear these regions have heavily concentrated their efforts on the repurposing of vehicles.

4. Millions of cars are recycled across the world every year

As many as 27 million ELVs are recycled across the world on an annual basis. This hugely encouraging figure speaks volumes about the increasing efforts being put into ensuring the raw materials that are used in cars don’t go to waste. Steel still remains the most recycled metal on Earth, so it’s perhaps no surprise that such high numbers of ELVs find themselves given a second life.

5. As many as one million cars a year are safely recycled in the UK 

In the UK alone, as many as one million ELVs will be sent to recycling plants every year. This number equates to 25 million tonnes of raw materials which can be extracted from the vehicle, then given a new purpose. Steel, iron, copper, aluminium, rubber, and glass are the core components which can be recovered. 

6. BMW want to boost recycled thermoplastics to 40%

In an effort to reduce waste on a wider scale, while also making recycling a core part of their enterprise, BMW have pledged to use as much as 40% repurposed thermoplastic in the construction of all new vehicles by 2030. They intend to take maritime plastic waste (such as netting and ropes) and convert as much of this as possible into parts for new cars. This is expected to reduce the carbon impact in the production stage by as much as 25%.

7. Cars produce four times as much CO2 as a coach 

The need to reduce the carbon footprint of a car in the production stage is underlined by emission rates for the average passenger vehicle. The UK Government highlighted how much CO2 different types of vehicles produce during a single journey between Glasgow and London. They found a petrol car would produce 88kgs, and a diesel car 85kgs. By contrast, a coach only emits 22kgs.

8. Passenger vehicles emit 4.6 metric tons of CO2 a year 

What’s more, it’s believed that the average passenger vehicle will emit as much as 4.6 metric tons of CO2 across one calendar year. That breaks down at a total of 404 grams for every mile travelled, if a car travels 11,500 miles in a year. For every gallon of gasoline burned, you can expect 8,887 grams of CO2 to be pumped into the atmosphere.

9. Passenger vehicles are nearly 50% less damaging than a plane 

Cars do stand out as a significantly better option than planes. The direct and indirect impact of the same trip from London to Glasgow in an aircraft, would be a total emission of 157kgs of CO2. That’s close to twice the amount you would expect to produce driving the same distance. Nearly half this amount are the indirect effects of the flight, such as water vapours, aerosols, and nitrogen oxide.

10. 86% of car parts can be recycled 

With the need to concentrate efforts on reducing their carbon footprint clear, it’s perhaps no surprise such focus is now placed on reusing and recycling car parts. As much as 86% an ELV will be used as part of the recycling process, which accounts for more than 18 million tonnes of steel being repurposed thanks to the automotive recycling industry alone, every year.

11. 85% of cars are turned into new metal

Of the 86% of car parts that can be recycled, a staggering 85% will be used to create new metal. Steel and iron are by far the most common metals which are taken from ELVs. Titanium, aluminium, and even magnesium are also potentially salvageable from a conventional passenger vehicle. Over a million cars are scrapped every year in the UK, with those numbers only set to rise as alternatives like EVs become the norm.

12. Tyres get turned into a variety of items

With a base compound of rubber, tyres are able to be repurposed for a wide variety of things. Some of the most common include mulch, the surface for a children’s playground, or even as running tracks. If it’s made of rubber, a recycled tyre could have been used in production.

13. 41% of ELV tyres are thrown into landfills 

Despite this wide variety of purposes, as many as 41% of ELV tyres will be thrown into a landfill. This isn’t ideal, because the chemical composition of road tyres means they take longer to biodegrade than most other materials.

14. China accounts for nearly half of discarded tyres 

China accounts for roughly 50% of all tyres thrown into landfill sites, with a total of 14.5 megatons being discarded on an annual basis. USA and Europe combine for another 23%, India for 12%, and the rest of the world for the remaining 20%. Despite that, it’s actually Brazil where the smallest total percentage of discarded tyres is recovered. Just 0.5% of all tyres from ELVs there will be recycled.

15. Canada has close to a 100% recycled tyre rate 

Leading the way is Canada, who have close to a 100% rate of recovery for all discarded tyres. This is particularly impressive when you consider the Canadians have both winter and summer tyres, owing to the drastic conditions they face when the cold season starts. They may have twice the tyres to worry about, but they’re all being repurposed. 

16. Recycling plants can repurpose 5,000 tonnes of tyres each year

Encouragingly, UK-based recycling plants are able to recycle up to 5,000 tonnes every year. This is the figure the UK Government set as the cap for how much one plant can realistically take on, rather than the national average – but it’s still encouraging to know this is a possibility on a location-by-location basis.

18. The UK has a 95% ELV target

Part of the effort to increase the amount of raw material being given a second life is a clearly defined ELV target on the part of the UK government. This is set at 95% – meaning that as many as 95% of vehicles which are no longer in use will be recycled or repurposed, rather than left to rot.

19. 60% of recycled vehicles are passenger cars 

In the UK passenger vehicles hold a 60% market share when it comes to the amount of value generated by being recycled. The remaining 40% is owned by commercial ELVs. At the end of June 2022, the RAC reported there to be as many as 33.1 million passenger cars on British roads.

20. Major growth expected for the industry by 2027

At the end of 2021, the UK car recycling industry was valued at as much as £1.32bn. By the year 2027, that figure is expected to rise to £1.89bn. That would mean a compound annual growth between 2022 and 2027 of 6.3% every year during that period. A major trigger in the increase is the expected prevalence of EVs between now and then.

21. 75 million windshields are replaced annually 

It’s not just the metals and core components of a car which find a new life. Every year a whopping 75 million windshields will be replaced around the globe. Owing to the fact that windshields tend to be harder to recycle than conventional glass, a lot of these end up going to landfills, instead of being repurposed.

22. A new process exists to recycle 8-10 tonnes of windshield glass a day 

As a result of that, further impetus is being placed on glass recyclers to find ways to ensure this happens less often. ScienceDirect highlights one such system, which is able to ensure that as much as 8-10 tonnes of windshield glass is repurposed on a daily basis. They found that the system recovered as much as 98.86% of all glass found in the windshields. 

23. Ford cars account for more than 40,000 being scrapped

Ford cars are the most commonly scrapped vehicles. A 2022 report found that 29,525 Focus’ and 18,304 Fiestas were sent to the scrap heap for recycling this year. These models were the first and fourth most commonly scrapped respectively.

24. Vauxhall models are the second most scrapped cars

Second on the list was another familiar name on British roads, Vauxhall. While you might expect the Corsa to rank first here, they were actually only second (third overall in the UK) to their cousin the Astra. The former saw 21,717 sent to be scrapped, while the latter beat that total by a few hundred, coming in at 22,143.

25. It costs between £3-£8 a kilogram to recycle EV lithium-ion batteries

The lithium-ion batteries which are used in EVs have been a source of debate for some time. The environmental impact their production has is one area of the EV manufacturing process which detractors of electric cars regularly bring up. It’s good news then that it costs just £3-£8 per kilogram for them to be recycled

26. Recycling EV batteries can help supply nearly a quarter of required metals

By 2040, it’s expected that the UK will need as much as 567,000 tonnes of cell production (themselve requiring 131,000 tonnes of cathodic metals) to power all the EVs on British roads. Recycling EV batteries can account for as much as 22% of this metal, greatly reducing the need to source it from other, less sustainable, areas.

27. Recycling EV batteries helps to create jobs

Aside from the environmental benefits recycling provides, it also serves as a means of increasing employment rates throughout the UK. Estimations show that if the UK meets its domestic battery demand by 2040, the supply chain will see a boost in jobs from 186,000 to 246,000 between now and then

28. There could be 11 million tons of EV battery waste by 2030

While it sounds like a scary figure, 11 million tons of waste won’t have as much of an impact as long as continued efforts are made to ensure that these batteries are being recycled. The Tees Valley has announced the creation of one of largest EV recycling plants in the country, with 150,000 EVs expected to pass through there every year.

29. EU directives say at least 50% of battery materials need to be recycled 

In order to ensure recycling figures are met, the EU has set a series of legislative measures to guarantee that genuine efforts are being made to see parts repurposed. One aspect of this is that at least 50% of all materials in an EV battery must be recycled in some capacity.

30. EV battery recycling industry to be 10x bigger by 2030

The current EV battery recycling market has a total value of $1.6bn. And while that number is relatively high, it’s expected to increase by more than 1000% by the year 2030. Figures suggest that by that point the market could be worth as much as $19.23bn. That’s a compound annual growth of a mind-blowing 31.87%.

31. Lithium-ion batteries hold a 46% market share 

Within that market, lithium-ion batteries make up nearly half of the total amount, sitting at 46%. These types of power units contain a series of salvageable components. Some of the most common include things like manganese, cobalt, nickel, and lithium itself. 

32. Lead-acid battery holds a 30% market share 

While perhaps not as widely recognised as the lithium-ion variant, lead-acid batteries account for 30% of those being recycled every year. While still recyclable, the removal of the lead from the batteries themselves is considerably more challenging than in the case of lithium-ion.

33. End-of-life EV batteries retain 75-80% of their capacity 

EV batteries will on average degrade at a rate of just 2.3% every year. That means after 10 years of use, they still can still maintain as much as 75% or more of their capacity. This makes them a prime candidate for being given a second life, with only minor alterations needed to restore them back to maximum efficiency. 

34. A recycling plant needs to hit 2,500-3,000 tonnes a year to break even 

The cost of processing will decrease for any recycling plant the closer they get to their maximum capacity, owing to throughput efficiency. That means for a plant to break even they need to recycle at least 2,500-3,000 tonnes of EV batteries on an annual basis.

35. Recycling one ton of steel has a massive impact

The production of steel uses up a lot of natural resources. By recycling just a single ton of steel, the net result is the preservation of 2,500 pounds of iron, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 12 pounds of limestone. With the average car producing almost exactly this amount of steel, it’s easy to see how automobile recycling quickly starts to have a big impact.

36. The 2022 Car Scrappage Scheme

As part of the continued push to move away from petrol and diesel cars by 2030, the UK Government continues to promote its Car Scrappage Scheme. For the 2022-23 scheme, those scrapping in their ELV can expect to receive anywhere from £1,000-£5,000. Some individual manufacturers will also run their own schemes, so be sure to check if your car’s make is included.

37. Scrappage schemes reduce London pollution by 2,000 tonnes

A recent report highlighted that the scrappage schemes have had a hugely positive impact on the levels of pollution in London. 140 tonnes of nitrogen oxides and 2,000 tonnes of CO2 have been removed from the atmosphere as a result of its introduction. That’s the equivalent amount to a lorry driving a whopping 1.5 million miles.

38. Four options to choose from for those scrapping in a vehicle in 2023

Those looking to scrap their vehicle in 2023 have the chance to take advantage of four different deals, depending on whether or not they meet the eligibility requirements. The four options available include:

  • Scrap a car – £2,000 
  • Scrap a motorcycle – £1,000
  • Scrap a wheelchair accessible vehicle – £5,000
  • Retrofit a wheelchair accessible vehicle – £5,000

39. The industry is set to double by 2028 

We’ve already seen how the EV battery recycling industry is set to hit monumental new heights by 2030 in the UK. The same is true of the wider car recycling market on a global scale. By 2028, the market is set to reach a total value of $171.65bn – up from $75.03bn in 2022. That’s a 14.8% compound annual growth.

40. Renault looking to generate more than £1bn in recycled vehicles 

Renault have claimed that their vehicles are made up of 85% recycled parts. This is a major step in helping them to reduce costs, as they target $2.2bn (£1.77bn) in annual revenue by the year 2030. This would also give them an operating margin of more than 10%.

41. Waste in the production stage has dipped by 31.3% since 2006

The desire to reduce waste across the entire EU automotive industry is best highlighted by an impressive dip of 31.3% in wasted material during the production stage. Waste peaked at 94.41kg per unit produced in 2008. In total, in 2021, 920,069kgs was created during the production stage – down from 1,339,375kgs in 2006. 

42. 2021 UK car production had lowest ever carbon footprint

In 2021, there was a total dip of 11.2% year-on-year on the UK automotive industry’s carbon footprint. This accounted for 81,095 fewer tonnes of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere than the previous year. The total production level fell by 6.7% in that same time.

43. There’s been a 96.2% improvement on the numbers from 2000

Encouragingly, as much as 96.2% less automotive waste is now going to UK landfills than it did at the turn of the millennium. This eye-opening number speaks volumes about changing attitudes to how we recycle, as well as a better understanding of how we need to take responsibility with the discarding of commercial goods.

44. Poland has the highest tyre end-of-life recycling rate in Europe

While you might think nations like the UK, Germany or France lead the way when it comes to tyre recycling and recovering, it’s actually Poland who has the best rate. A recent EU report showed that the Poles are repurposing or recycling more tyres than they’re manufacturing every year. Currently, they recover 122.2%, and recycle 118.8%.

45. Car scrapping happens in six steps 

We’ve discussed a lot of what’s involved with car scrapping in this guide, but we haven’t explored the process itself. Here’s a brief rundown of how ELVs are taken and recycled: 

  1. Parts that can be reused are gathered together and stored separately. 
  2. The items which can’t be recycled are disposed of ethically. 
  3. The car is shredded, which separates it into the different materials it’s made up of. 
  4. All steel is magnetised and pulled away from the conveyor belt, leaving only the plastics and non-ferrous metals.  
  5. Light, non-ferrous items are then removed via a vacuum.
  6. Foams, rubbers, fabrics and light plastics are all that remains. They are turned into a gas via heated rotating boxes. This gas is used to generate steam for electricity. 

46. The UK scrap industry has grown 3% year-on-year from 2017

The UK car scrapping industry grew a total of 3.6% in 2022. This was fairly in keeping with the continued compound annual growth of the industry, which has risen a steady 3% on a yearly basis from 2017 to now. 

47. There are 287 scrap metal recycling businesses in the UK as of 2022

The 287 scrap metal businesses in the UK in 2022, was a step up on the 277 registered in 2021. However, it was also some way short of the 301 which existed at the end of 2019. The North West and West Midlands dominate the market, with each region having as many as 12 dedicated scrap recycling plants. Yorkshire has a further 11. 

48. The worldwide vehicle recycling industry could reach $139.8bn by 2027

On a more global scale, the current market estimates are for the industry as a whole to grow to a whopping $139.8bn by 2027. That’s a compound annual growth of 13.04% between 2021 and that time. This is particularly encouraging, and is likely a reaction to the continued adoption of EVs. 

49. Five European countries will have stopped car wastage totally by 2030

Incredibly, as many as five countries in Europe have intentions of reducing the total waste of an ELV to 0% by the year 2030. Germany, Greece, Romania, Cyprus, and Luxembourg all intend to cut the entirety of unused parts in recycling. In the case of the Germans, that’s a net gain of 560,455 total less vehicles going to waste. 

50. The global car recycling market has existed for nearly 100 years 

While it might feel like a fairly new concept to recycle vehicles, the industry actually spans across decades. First pioneered during the Second World War as a means of reusing parts for artillery, the modern market has evolved into a viable means of protecting the environment, and giving outdated vehicles a second shot at serving a purpose.