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Repurposing and recycling things left behind

In the door pocket of my car is a much folded and unfolded map of Lafayette County. With it is a red magic marker, which I use to trace every new road I drive down. My goal is to touch every road in the county. An incidental result of this nomadic touring is the discovery of errors in maps, such as finding that a given road (usually with four digits) turns left instead of right or that a road doesn’t exist where the map says it does.

On many jaunts around the outback of Faulkner country, I see long trailers stacked with new Nissan cars going north or new Toyota vehicles going south.

What, you might well ask, has one to do with the other? A very short trip outside the Oxford city limits reveals the connection. In yard after yard, pasture after pasture, groves of trees or just sitting beside abandoned houses, abandoned cars and trucks abound. They, too, once came to town on transporters, sleek, shiny, and costly. For a few years, they were maintained and actively driven. In time their engines fell silent, and windows and windshields got spattered by mud or bird droppings and pine straw.

With no further use, they are in essence gone.

Automobiles do not make up the whole inventory of disused hardware. Farm implements and serious road equipment takes up its share of space. One can only marvel that a massive Caterpillar dozer is simply left to the elements. One can be allowed to ask how owners of car after car, truck after truck, apparently park one old vehicle beside another over the years.

But to the point of the kinship of the shiny beauties passing through destined for dealerships and the semi-rusted relics around our countryside, a thought occurs. If the spiffy new wheels must age and absorb dents and dings and scratches in the paint, does it follow that in time they are worthless?

Clearly such is not the case. It’s fairly easy to ascertain the value of scrap steel at recycling yards. Prices around $150 per ton are common, thus making the average car worth about $300 as scrap.

Take a moment to reflect on what might be recycled for other uses. One commodity is motor oil, which never wears out though it may get dirty. It’s safer for the environment to have old motor oil salvaged than to have it permeate landfills or pastures. Like the oil itself, the filters that handle it may be recycled. About 15 million windshields are replaced annually in this country. Reclaimed auto glass can be transformed into fiberglass insulation, concrete blocks and glass bottles. Aluminum car rims, door handles, and other scrap metal can be melted down and used elsewhere.

Old batteries are the single most-recycled product from cars, with a 98-99 percent recycling rate. Wheeled vehicles usually stand on tires that can be redone. Of the 290 million scrap tires produced annually, 233 million are recycled.

You begin to see the picture: most components of old vehicles may be reworked into things more beneficial and profitable than pasture decorations. Consider these other parts: water pumps, starters and alternators, plastics, belts, rubber hoses, mats and carpets — all have potential new uses. In fact, a car has around 25 percent of its body made from recycled steel.

Now, what if local governments could see their way to sponsoring vehicle recycling? What wonderful results could that bring about? For one thing, my journeys down the back road of the county would be less unsightly. For another, with a simple profit splitting with the original owner, the county and the owner would find money in their pockets.

Wouldn’t it be nice to start a new map of the county and mark the roads I travel with a blue marker, indicating it had been cleaned up? Maybe our governments, city and county, should create a Department of Recycling. My bet is it would pay for itself in short order.

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.