Cash For Clunkers Hurt The Environment, Says New Report

President Obama’s Car Allowance Rebates System (CARS) was praised in 2009 for helping the environment as well as the economy. It turns out, however, that the “Cash For Clunkers” program may have hurt the environment more than it helped.

The idea behind the Cash For Clunkers program was to get people to buy more fuel efficient cars. People who traded in their old gas-guzzling jalopies got $4,500 toward a new fuel efficient cars. The program was touted as a win win. The auto industry gets a boost, the consumer gets a new car and America’s ecological footprint gets a little smaller.

According to Yahoo News, close to a million cars were traded in for more fuel efficient vehicles during the program. But that doesn’t mean that the program was environmentally friendly.

E Magazine reports that Cash For Clunkers actually hurt the environment.

How? Well, instead of recycling the parts from the used cars the program shredded many of the vehicles. All of the engines were reportedly destroyed, since the government didn’t want anyone reselling the engines, and the rest of the parts were put up for auction. After 180 days, however, the leftover parts were destroyed.

And destroying a car is no easy task.

The magazine writes:

“For each ton of metal recovered by a shredding facility, roughly 500 pounds of shredder residue are produced, meaning about 3 to 4.5 million tons of shredder residue is sent to landfills every year. This shredder residue typically consists of a mix of materials including polyurethane foams, polymers, metal oxides, glass and dirt. A partnership between the American Chemistry Council, Argonne National Laboratory and USCAR has been working on a way of extracting more of this material, specifically the plastic. Argonne estimates that recycling just the plastic and metal would represent 24 million barrels of oil saved each year. Unfortunately, that did not happen with the 690,000 vehicles scrapped during the Cash for Clunkers program.”

In addition to the environmental impact, the Cash For Clunkers program may have not been as beneficial to the economy as it planned to be. Mike Smith of explains in an opinion piece that the program took many used vehicles off the market while driving up the price of new cars.

Smith writes:

“The program destroyed approximately 750,000 working vehicles. They were crushed and sold for scrap metal, primarily to China. This created a severe shortage of affordable, reliable cars for folks like my customers who cannot afford newer, expensive cars. For independent dealers like me, the availability of used cars to resell diminished drastically, while prices skyrocketed.”

On the bright side, the Cash for Clunkers program did put more fuel efficient cars on the road. Most cars traded in got 15.8 mpg or less compared to the new cars that got 25.4 mpg or more. That is a fuel-economy increase of 61%.

What did you think of the Cash For Clunkers program?