The Federal Government is planning for Potential Recycling of Vehicles in the Aftermath of Disasters

Federal agencies are thinking strategically about how to recycle damaged vehicles resulting from a disaster event, such as a flood, hurricane, earthquake, dirty (nuclear) bomb, nuclear attack, chemical attack (e.g., ricin) or biological attack (e.g., anthrax).


  • A partial snapshot of on-going federal research and thinking on this topic was provided at a workshop of U.S. EPA's, National Homeland Security Research Center.


  • Federal research on such damaged vehicles matters because recycling as many and as much of these vehicles as possible is a high priority, as it can address a number of foreseeable issues:


Landfilling these vehicles (with or without decontamination) would be hugely expensive, pose other risks, and take up a lot of landfill space elsewhere.


The quantity of these vehicles represents a huge amount of value that should be preserved as much as possible.


Why it’s important:

Researchers do not fully understand the recycling industry but plan on having the cooperation and assistance of the industry in recycling these vehicles. Failure to understand the industry could doom their efforts.


Important research questions include:


  • How many damaged vehicles can be expected in the aftermath of any disaster event?


  • How and where can they be moved safely and quickly, and stored for how long?


  • Can they be decontaminated and, if so, how clean is clean?

    Often, these vehicles are “totaled” and ought not be able to be sold to unsuspecting purchasers


  • What are the roles of government and the private sector, especially the recycling industry?


This Workshop made clear via the presentations that government needs to have a good disaster response plan that incorporates lessons learned from (at least) Hurricane Sandy and Fukushima (nuclear disaster). Being unorganized or disorganized is a threat multiplier. Key relationships (including with the recycling industry) need to be made in advance.


  • ISRI had the opportunity at the Workshop to explain that the recycling industry does not handle waste and will not accept waste for recycling, especially radioactive and biohazard material. Also, a host of potential regulatory (not just RCRA) and liability issues exist under post-disaster conditions and would need to be addressed.


  • Because of the Workshop, the government attendees have a better understanding of the recycling industry and how the industry can help them to achieve their objectives. While next steps are not known yet, ISRI is now on their radar.


Contact: David Wagger, (202) 662-8533


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