One of the main goals of the federal clunkers program is to get gas guzzlers off the road forever, so the program requires them to be permanently disabled, a task handled by auto dealers. But that's just the beginning of the end and, really, the rebirth of the Ford Explorers, Jeep Cherokees and Dodge Caravans that consumers have been trading in for new Ford Focuses, Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas.
Steel is a recyclable commodity, and most of those old cars will eventually return as something else another automobile, perhaps, or a beam in a Shanghai skyscraper or a washing machine in a home in West Hartford. First the clunkers must again become raw steel.
The recycling process typically begins with a wrecker, who buys the disabled car from the auto dealer that made the cash-for-clunker deal. The wrecker typically salvages reusable parts and crushes the frame, then sells it to a scrap yard like the one Sims operates off I-91, near Exit 9.
Mr John Sartori GM of Sims Metal Management's North Haven scrap recycling facility said that "The shredder is a very destructive animal."
"They used to call them 'fragmentizers,'" said Sartori, who has worked at the North Haven scrap yard since 1976. "Now they call them shredders."
Sims operates a 9,000 horsepower shredder in Jersey City that is nearly twice as powerful as the North Haven shredder. It measures productivity by total tonnage processed, not by type of item, and it could not say how many cars that North Haven processes in a day or year. Also, Sims usually can't distinguish between cars junked through the Cash for Clunkers program and cars junked for other reasons.
Worldwide, Sims handled more than 16 million tonnes of material in its 2008 fiscal year, including washing machines, cast iron radiators, bicycles, and refrigerators, as well as automobiles and non metals. Sartori estimated that automobiles yield more than 40% of the material recycled at the North Haven plant.
Although the Cash for Clunkers program appears to be successful by several measures, more than 330,000 cars have been traded in so far, most of them haven't made it as far as the scrap yards yet. Many dealers are waiting for reimbursement from the federal government before disposing of the clunkers.
From the Sims shredder yard, much of the scrap these days goes to Gateway Terminal, a cargo handler on the New Haven waterfront. There the metal is loaded into ships bound for China, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and other places overseas. Sims' North Haven yard even has its own rail tracks and rail cars.