How remanufacturing in the auto industry minimizes waste

Jackie Lam
August 7, 2017
6 min read
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Even if it's a new model, your ride may be a gas guzzler. Cars unapologetically spew carbon emissions.

And while most of the environmental damage a car commits over its lifespan is on the road – in a car’s first year alone it adds 15.25 tons of CO2 into our atmosphere – 3.25 tons are from a car’s use, the remaining 12 tons of CO2 emissions are from its production.1

Reducing a car’s carbon footprint starts with how it’s made

That’s where companies like Motorcar Parts of America (MPA) come in.

A leading car parts remanufacturer and distributor headquartered in Torrance, California, MPA specializes in car components such as starters and alternators. Since 1968, the company’s comprehensive, top-to-bottom green-tech processes and commitment to sustainability are at the heart of its business practices.

Remanufacturing conserves the energy and materials that had already been invested in a component’s original production – and that’s what MPA is known for. A key part of MPA’s eco-friendly manufacturing process includes the reclamation and recondition of non-wearing parts that would otherwise end up in landfills. MPA also reconditions long-lasting components that have stood the test of time — we’re talking housings, magnets and stators.

And it’s been estimated that remanufacturing an essential component of a car saves up to a staggering 91 percent of the energy that would otherwise be used in producing an entirely new part.2

Per the company’s site, creating a new starter requires more than 10 times the amount of energy, and nine times the amount of materials it takes to remanufacture one.3 A new alternator uses about seven times the amount of energy, and eight times the amount of raw material, of a remanufactured one. That conserved energy means a drastically reduced carbon dioxide output and in overall consumption. In fact, it’s estimated that remanufactured products conserve roughly the equivalent of 400 trillion (yes, you read that correctly) BTUs (British thermal units) of energy per year.

By drastically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions normally generated by producing new parts, MPA’s remanufacturing process lessens the effects of climate change.

How remanufacturing works

According to the Automotive Parts Remanufacturers Association (APRA)4 auto remanufacturing has been around since World War II, before sustainable, green practices were trending. As natural resources were funneled to the war effort to build planes and ships, the U.S. had to make do with what existed. It was a time when reusing car and truck parts was essential — and as a result, the practice skyrocketed. 

As the word suggests, remanufacturing is a process of reusing parts that have been previously produced. Just like buying a secondhand teak wood table or refilling a used ink cartridge reduces an object’s carbon footprint, so does remanufacturing car parts, but on a much larger scale. As entirely new components aren’t being produced, this process conserves the existing energy in a product. Furthermore, it requires very little additional energy.

How remanufacturing helps the environment

According to the APRA,5 here’s how remanufacturing helps the planet: Conserves energy. Car parts are part of the smelting process for a minimal amount of time. (Smelting, by the way, is the process of extracting metal from its ore by a means of heating and melting.) This in turn saves millions of barrels of oil and other forms of energy.

Reduces air pollution. As auto remanufacturing means less parts need to undergo the smelting process, it in turn reduces air pollution.

Conserves raw materials. Millions of tons of natural resources — primarily metals such as iron, copper, and aluminum — are put back into rebuilding car parts. Reduces landfill waste. Because these materials are cycled back during the remanufacturing process, less landfills will be filled up with old car parts that have been tossed away. Motorcar Parts of America is just one of the many companies in our Swell’s Zero Waste portfolio diligently doing its part to minimize waste and curb pollution. For instance, Mohawk Industries, which specializes in waste reuse, has invented a collection of carpets made from 100% PET plastic soda bottles. It’s also implemented a program to repurpose all process waste from their facilities.

Companies like MPA and Mohawk Industries are just a small sampling of the companies included in our Zero Waste portfolio that are helping reduce the 258 million tons of solid waste generated in the US in 2014. 

Swell makes it simple to play a direct role, seamlessly connecting investors with forward-thinking companies that are changing the world for the better. And you can rest easy knowing that the companies in the Swell Zero Waste portfolio have been well vetted and we believe are positioned for growth; our impact requirements are rigorous.In other words, impact investing has never been easier.

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