Back in 2009, the “Cash for Clunkers” federal program was supposed to be a boon for the environment and the economy. During a limited time, consumers could trade in an old gas-guzzling used car for up to $4,500 cash back towards the purchase of a fuel-efficient new car. It seemed like a win for everyone: the environment, the gasping auto industry and cash-strapped consumers.
Though almost a million people poured into car dealerships eager to exchange their old jalopies for something shiny and new, recent reports indicate the entire program may have actually hurt the environment far more than it helped.
According to E Magazine, the “Clunkers” program, which is officially known as the Car Allowance Rebates System (CARS), produced tons of unnecessary waste while doing little to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The program's first mistake seems to have been its focus on car shredding, instead of car recycling. With 690,000 vehicles traded in, that's a pretty big mistake.
According to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), automobiles are almost completely recyclable, down to their engine oil and brake fluid. But many of the “Cash for Clunkers” cars were never sent to recycling facilities. The agency reports that the cars’ engines were instead destroyed by federal mandate, in order to prevent dealers from illicitly reselling the vehicles later.
The remaining parts of each car could then be put up for auction, but program guidelines also required that after 180 days, no matter how much of the car was left, the parts woud be sent to a junkyard and shredded.