Were Recyclers the First Environmentalists?

September 14, 2014

The recycling industry has been a trailblazer for the environmental movement.


Messes like this are becoming a thing of the past. The recycling industry has become a trailblazer for the environmental movement.


As a young boy, I remember the adventure of going over the bridge from Vancouver to Surrey, B.C., to the “used auto parts dealers” on Scott Road. For a car crazy kid, it was like Disneyland. I looked in awe at all the models I coveted and even ones I didn’t.

“Out of 200 recyclers, 50 percent have achieved a Gold Rating.”

In my memory, the cars were stacked twenty high, and the dirt below was black from leaking oil. I also remember drives through the province, spying a rusting hulk of yesteryear in some farmer’s field and thinking how cool that car could be if I fixed it up—if only I knew how!

In those days, most people were unaware of the environment and the impact of fluids leaking into the ecosystem. Oil came from the ground, and if it went back into the ground, that was okay, wasn’t it? Cars would rot in farmers’ fields and be home to mice and other wildlife while brambles and grass swallowed them up.

The early impression of auto recycling that I carried into adulthood was that it was not a green business but exactly the opposite. Last year, as I was looking at entering the industry, I viewed a number of operations in the Vancouver area—and I was impressed with how far recyclers had come in their practices. But, as time has gone on, I have come to the realization that the recycling industry has actually been a trailblazer for the environmental movement. It was one of the first industries to embrace the idea of environmental stewardship.

Code of Practice

In 1993, the executive of the BC Auto Recyclers (B-CAR) started developing an environmental Code of Practice (CoP); it was completed in 1995 and was rolled out to the industry the following year. In 1997, the Automotive Recyclers’ Environmental Association (AREA) was formed as a nonprofit association, with the Board of Directors comprised of members from the industry. Its original mandate was to develop and administer an accreditation program for auto recyclers that would ensure the environmentally safe removal, transportation, reuse, or recycling of hazardous materials. In addition, the association is charged with communicating information and training to the industry. The program was developed in partnership with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, and others.

In 2000, the City of Abbotsford, B.C., enacted a bylaw that required the 12 automotive recyclers in the municipality to be certified as being in compliance with AREA’s environmental Code of Practice in order to obtain their annual municipal business license. Neil James of Ralph’s Auto Supply in Abbotsford is the chair of B-CAR. He is recognized as the pioneer of this movement and was instrumental in working with the City of Abbotsford when it became the first municipality to adopt the Code as a bylaw requirement.

Abbotsford’s action demonstrated to the B.C. government that a regulation of this nature would benefit both the industry and the environment. On September 1, 2007, the B.C. government enacted the Vehicle Dismantling and Recycling Industry Environmental Planning Regulation. The regulation requires all vehicle recyclers in British Columbia to register with the Ministry of Environment and to have an environmental plan that has been reviewed and approved by a qualified professional. AREA provides this service to its members through its Environmental Accreditation Program. The Environmental Accreditation Program costs vehicle recyclers an annual fee of $600.

“McKean talks proudly of industry stewardship.”

The CoP has come a long way, developing and expanding, since its start over 20 years ago. The primary reason for its success has been its acceptance and ongoing support by the automotive recycling industry.

Colin McKean has been with AREA from the outset and was previously with the Ministry of Environment. As AREA’s executive director, he is proud to report that out of the approximately 200 automotive recyclers subject to the B.C. government’s regulation, 50 percent have achieved a Gold Rating for their operations. McKean has led the charge to have the industry manage itself and talks proudly of “industry stewardship.”

A Good Example

One example of this stewardship comes from southeast British Columbia, where recyclers have agreed to help keep the Regional District of East Kootenay’s transfer stations and landfills clear of unwanted vehicles. It started with Farbrook Auto Wrecking in Cranbrook, Out O’Town-Auto Town in Fernie, and Kool Country Auto Parts in Invermere joining forces to visit sites on a regular basis to remove any unwanted vehicles. This quick removal helps reduce the chances of members of the public removing parts, releasing hazardous materials into the environment, and contaminating sites.

According to Collision Repair Magazine, Chris Taylor, owner of Farbrook Auto Wrecking, soon reported that his workers had collected 41 vehicles from the Wasa Lake and Tie Lake Transfer Stations. The vehicles contained 75 litres of engine oil, 45 litres of transmission and differential fluids, six litres of brake and power steering fluids, 14 litres of engine coolant, seven mercury switches, four batteries, eight litres of washer fluids, and 30 tires. Farbrook also cleaned up approximately 50 kilograms of contaminated soil.

A Global Model

The CoP has also been embraced by Environment Canada, vehicle manufacturers, and automotive dismantlers across the country. The key to this success is that Environment Canada has provided funding for training as well as inspections. More than 400 automotive recyclers across Canada have been certified as being compliant with the CoP. Increasingly, this Canadian solution is being viewed as a very progressive model for other countries to follow.

The industry is continuing to evolve, and AREA is now looking at ways to remove end-of-life vehicles from remote areas.

This progressive approach is not restricted to the recycling industry but is showing up throughout the automotive industry. The websites of the big chains and associations of collision repair shops—companies such as CARSTAR, Craftsman Collision, and Kirmac—reveal those companies’ commitment to the protection of the environment.

“Recyclers keep the region’s transfer stations and landfills clear of unwanted vehicles.”

Recyclers have much to be proud of in the evolution of their industry and the commitment they have shown to self-improvement and environmental stewardship. In addition to the protection of the environment through the CoP, the use of recycled original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts reduces the need to manufacture new metal parts for later disposal. Using recycled parts is simply the responsible thing to do, and for that reason alone they should be the first choice, not an alternative.

So, next time you are talking to the younger generation about the environment and recycling, you can tell them the story about some pioneers in the environmental movement: the automotive recyclers of British Columbia!

For more information on the Environmental Management Program for automotive recyclers, go to area-bc.ca or contact Colin McKean at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Ron Fisher is the Director of Operations for Quality Recycled Parts BC and a former Claims Operations Manager for ICBC. He can be reached at email hidden; JavaScript is required250-202-6114.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Collision Quarterly.