How to Increase Automotive Plastics Recycling
Automotive recyclers have focused on recycling some car parts — steel parts, for example — for decades. Today, 95 percent of vehicles are recycled at the end of their practical life.
The recycling of plastic automotive parts, however, is still in its infancy, according to SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, because recycling some plastic and polymer composite car parts can be costly and technologically challenging.
Plastics are becoming increasingly important in car manufacturing as these materials allow automakers to reduce costs and produce lighter vehicles, which is key to improving fuel economy and meeting emissions rules, namely the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.
IHS Automotive estimates that by 2020, the average car will incorporate about 770 pounds of plastic by weight compared to the 440 pounds in 2014 — an increase of 75 percent.
Some 39 different plastics are now used in cars, SPI says. Plastics make up about 50 percent of a modern automobile’s volume and only 10 percent of its weight — on average, plastics reduce auto weight by 500 pounds.
In a new report, the plastics trade group identifies challenges and solutions to achieving increased recycling by working with the full supply chain: from resin suppliers and equipment manufacturers to processors, brand owners and recyclers.
Automotive Recycling: Devalued is now Revalued says the opportunities for recycled plastics in cars are abundant. Each year in the US, about 12 million to 15 million vehicles are scrapped with an increasing amount of those vehicles comprised of more and more plastic components and parts. Recycling of post-industrial plastics from cars is already happening at automotive plants, as manufacturers have become leaders in managing their scrap to reduce waste.
“There is an opportunity for recycled plastics in the automotive sector, and we are hoping to merge key learnings from all members of the supply chain together to learn how we can best promote and grow plastics recycling in the automotive industry,” said Kim Holmes, SPI’s senior director of recycling and diversion, in a statement.
SPI has two projects underway to help close the loop on auto plastics. First, the Zero Net Waste (ZNW) recognition program assists the plastics industry in managing waste in manufacturing by offering specific tools to evaluate waste reduction opportunities and maximize landfill diversion.
Second, in a separate recovery effort, SPI members have begun a collaborative research project to explore the viability of collecting and recycling auto plastics from end-of-life vehicles and build a basic recovery model for whole parts before shredding. The review will help determine the feasibility of recovery today pared against material performance and demand for recycled thermoplastic olefins (TPO) and polypropylene (PP).
If successful, SPI says this project will serve as a launching point to explore the opportunity to recover additional plastics, both through whole-parts recovery and eventually auto shredder residue (ASR).
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