Replacing all your old stuff with new green products scratches the consumer itch and feels like you’re doing something good for the environment. But “replace” is not one of the 3Rs of environmentalism. When trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle, keeping your old stuff as long as possible is usually part of the equation. That’s fine for items like clothing, but the equation gets trickier for items that continue to pollute every time you use them, like cars. Luckily, the math isn’t terribly difficult, and you have plenty of options for getting rid of your old vehicle when it’s time to go electric.
Embodied Carbon vs Carbon Footprint
When people decide to buy a new car to be more efficient, they think of their carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a simple way to express the environmental impact of an activity. It is usually based on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the activity, which are measured in eq. CO2. Driving a new car will have lower carbon emissions than driving an old one, as newer cars are built to higher standards. emissions standardsare generally more fuel efficientand are less likely to oil leak or other pollutants.
But before a new vehicle travels its first mile, it has already created significant environmental impacts. Manufacturing new cars is energy-intensive, uses a lot of materials, and often creates significant amounts of waste and pollution. The carbon footprint of all that precedes the use of the vehicle is its embodied carbon (or sometimes, embodied energy). Material Production accounts for approximately 20% of the life cycle emissions of a fossil fuel car. It’s closer to 40% for an electric vehicle.
do the math
The suitability of an upgrade depends a lot on what you currently drive and how efficient your new vehicle is. It also depends on the source of electricity. An electric vehicle running entirely on coal-fired electricity will not reduce emissions as much as a vehicle powered by renewables. Replacing your three-year-old Honda Civic with a new one GMC Electric Hummer doesn’t do the environment any good.
Reuters used a model from Argonne National Laboratory to determine the point at which an EV becomes cleaner than an equivalent gasoline-powered car in terms of lifetime carbon footprint. For a mid-size vehicle, they determined the break-even point at 13,500 miles. Another study indicated that most electric vehicles will offset emissions from manufacturing by 19,000 miles. These studies compare new vehicles – “paying off” the carbon debt of a new EV would take longer compared to a used vehicle.
Ars-Technica compared the impacts of a new EV with those of a 2010 combustion engine car. They concluded that the environmental impact of the EV would match that of the old car after two years. Beyond two years, the EV would be an improvement over the old car.
You can do a similar calculation to estimate emissions for your own situation:
- Find or calculate the gas mileage of your current vehicle.
- Estimate the number of kilometers traveled in a year.
- Multiply 8,887 grams of CO2 by the number of gallons of fuel you burn in a year.
- look for it EPA emissions estimates for the electric vehicle you are considering.
- Multiply the results by your annual mileage.
- Research embodied carbon data for the electric vehicle you are considering. If you can’t find it, use the Union of Concerned Scientists estimate of 12,000 pounds of CO2.
- Add the value in steps 5 and 6 to calculate the first year emissions for the electric vehicle. Compare this to the Step 3 value for your current car.
- Continue adding the values from steps 3 and 5 to their respective vehicles until the result for the EV is equal to or less than the result for your current car. This is the number of years before the footprint of the old car exceeds that of the new EV.
Get rid of your old car
Whether or not it makes sense to upgrade now, eventually you’ll have to get rid of your old car. If you’re just upgrading, trading it in or selling it is the obvious choice. You can help someone replace their old gas guzzler with your relatively efficient car.
But if your car is the most greedy, or if it completely gives up the ghost, how do you get rid of it? You could donate it to charity. Some charities repair vehicles to drive and donate them to people in need. Others will tow inoperable vehicles to strip them of salable parts. Make sure you know what happens to the vehicle and how the charity disposes of unusable parts before making a donation.
By weight, the vehicles are made up of about 75% metal, ferrous and non-ferrous, which is recyclable. The remaining 25% includes tires (which can be difficult to recycle), fluids such as used oil, antifreeze, lubricants, gasoline or diesel, and other materials. These other materials include glass, plastic, fabric, rubber, and electronic components. Many of these materials are recyclable. Others are poisonous and must be handled with care. Some materials are both toxic and recyclable. Breaking down your car requires a responsible recycler. Salvage yards are important for the recycling of every material found in motor vehicles. But they can also be a source of pollution and endanger the health of nearby communities without proper maintenance and regulation. Many responsible salvage yards require you to remove and dispose of automotive fluids before accepting your unwanted vehicle. You can find charities and recyclers using Earth911’s recycling directory.
If you buy
Consider buying a more efficient used vehicle. Any used car that gets better mileage than the old one is a step in the right direction, without incurring additional embodied carbon costs. Also consider carefully whether you actually need a pickup or an SUV – weight and aerodynamics always affect the EV efficiency. No matter what size vehicle you choose, it is always the best is to choose the electric version.
If you don’t choose an electric vehicle (for example, because your home’s electrical system won’t support it without expensive upgrades or your electricity comes entirely from coal-fired power plants), choose the car with the best fuel efficiency. gasoline you can get. Look for vehicles with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) – they are 10% more efficient than the same model with an automatic transmission. Whatever car you own, you can reduce your carbon footprint by keeping it well maintained, never idling the engine, and driving less.
Featured Image: Big Brothers – stock.adobe.com