CWE’s Historical Involvement in Airbag Disposal/Recycling

56 million defective airbags are currently under recall because they can explode when deployed. The airbags don’t perform correctly because their materials, particularly their metal components, are defective. Climates with high heat and humidity can make the problem even more dangerous. If these defective airbags explode upon deployment, they can cause serious injury and death.

Because of this problem, the largest worldwide automotive recall in history began in May 2016 and continues through December 2019. It’s estimated that 65 to 70 million total airbags will be affected by the time the recall is complete. Recalled airbags must be completely and safely destroyed and disposed of. This is a monumental task facing the automotive industry.

Early in 2019, we stepped in, to support the industry and help address the public safety issue. Recalled airbags that contain ammonium nitrate as the propellant must be sent to a hazardous waste permitted facility (permitted under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, RCRA). Universal waste facilities are not allowed to accept airbags. There are presently only 3 RCRA-permitted facilities in the country accepting these devices. Our facility is one of the three, but we’re unique because we shred the airbags, whereas the other two facilities incinerate (burn) them. Our destruction process also results in the recycling or re-use of nearly 100% of the residuals produced: the ammonium nitrate is safely extracted and sold to the fertilizer industry; the metal is sold to steel mills for use in appliances, auto parts, and other devices; the cardboard shipping containers in which the airbags arrive are recycled. Therefore, our proprietary, patent-pending airbag disposal system is the only completely green, environmentally-friendly choice.

We can handle any volume of airbags (from small to large jobs) and we are completely transparent throughout the process from paperwork to shipping to holding on-site (if needed) to destruction. We have in place a nationwide transportation network in support of the collection of these units, so getting the units to our facility is a smooth process. We provide complete material traceability and prompt proof of disposal.

  • What airbag waste handlers need to know:
    All used, recalled airbag inflators containing ammonium nitrate are now classified as hazardous waste, which affects their transportation, storage, handling, disposal, and reporting.
  • In November 2018, the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) published an interim final rule to support automotive dealerships, salvage yards, and other airbag waste handlers by exempting the collection of airbag waste from hazardous waste requirements as long as certain conditions are met.
  • Handlers are required to send recalled inflators that have been in service to an RCRA designated facility for proper disposal in a timely manner.
  • CWE was granted the required Class 3 modification to our RCRA Facility Part B permit in Dayton to add the necessary reactive waste code to accept inflators. We are permitted to shred 17 Million airbags/year. We can handle orders of any size (small to large), and our shredder has plenty of available capacity.
  • We help dealers and OEM’s navigate the complex regulated process of managing the materials all the way from their hands to ours. Airbags are logged and tracked throughout the shipment and destruction process, and we promptly provide all necessary certificates and proof of disposal.
  • It’s also important to note that our airbag shredding facility is located at a fully RCRA-Part B permitted hazardous waste facility, so our capabilities extend far beyond airbag disposal should you require other services.
    What the public needs to know:
  • The defective airbag inflator and propellant devices that may improperly deploy during a crash, even a minor one, could shoot metal fragments at the occupants, which has resulted in hundreds of injuries and some deaths to date.
  • Over 100 million airbag inflators in vehicles manufactured between 2006 and 2016 are involved, making this the largest automotive recall in history.
  • Driver Airbags, Passenger Airbags, and Side Impact Airbags which use ammonium nitrate as their propellant are the most common devices affected by this recall.
  • It has been reported that some recalled inflator devices have been reinstalled into vehicles, causing them to be recalled multiple times, driving the recall to potentially 150 million units.
  • Because the recalled inflators cannot be re-used or safely deployed once removed from the vehicles, inflators have been declared a danger to public health and safety by the USEPA and must be disposed of as hazardous waste.

To learn more, read our press release or contact Mitch George, Sales, and Marketing Manager.

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