How can a car be 85 percent recyclable?

Scott Benjamin

A crane lifts junk cars in a scrap yard in Bremen, Germany. (AP Photo/Joerg Sarbach)

Earlier this morning I was taking my aluminum cans and newspapers to the big recycling bins in my neighborhood, so naturally, I had recycling on my mind. And as I got back into my car and began to drive away, I remembered I had recently read about several automakers making the claim that their cars are almost entirely recyclable.

Of course, reusing old car parts is nothing new. In fact, they were doing this long before it was ever officially called "recycling." And I'm not just talking about pulling out the old threadbare seats, or a (somewhat) functional alternator and a scratchy AM radio and bolting them into another similar car either. I mean the engine blocks, bumpers, wheels and other iron, steel and aluminum materials that have routinely been removed from discarded cars and trucks to be melted and cast into brand-new engine blocks, bumpers and wheels. Even so, much of the original car was left behind for the car crusher.

But now, several auto manufacturers are intentionally selecting reusable materials to build their new cars. In some cases, as much as 85 percent of a new car can be recycled. In fact, Toyota claims the 2010 Toyota Prius is 85 percent recyclable, Lexus makes the same 85 percent recyclable claim about the 2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan and all Volvo cars have been 85 percent recyclable since 2002.

And just for fun, I thought I'd mention this one: According to Greg Migliore at AutoWeek Magazine, the Bentley Continental is 85 percent recyclable, too. But then he also points out that over 70 percent of all Bentley cars ever built are still hanging around in garages and museums -- not the junkyard. That's pretty remarkable when you take a moment to think about it, isn't it?

More related stuff: How Recycling Works How Car Crushers Work How the Toyota Prius Works How Bentleys Work