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Plastics Industry, Recyclers Launch Automotive Recycling Project

automotive recyclingA new automotive recycling project aims to develop a method to collect and recover plastic auto parts in a way that is technically and economically feasible.

The Automotive End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Recycling Demonstration Project is a partnership between SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, Automotive Recyclers Association, Automotive Recyclers of Canada, Canadian Plastics Industry Association and a number of independent plastics and automotive recyclers.

The organizations say that through the pilot project, they want to show that increased automotive recycling is beneficial to recyclers and the plastics industry. The pilot focuses on recovering polypropylene (PP) and thermoplastic olefin (TPO) auto parts.

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 an earlier SPI report. The report says that while recycling some plastic and polymer composite car parts can be costly and technologically challenging, the opportunities for recycled plastics in cars are abundant.

Between 12 million and 15 million vehicles are scrapped each year in the US. The average lifespan of a vehicle is about 11.5 years, and increasingly those vehicles are comprised of more plastics.

Plastics allow automakers to reduce costs and produce lighter vehicles, which is key to improving fuel economy and meeting emissions rules such as 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.

SPI says the recovery of plastic components before shredding is largely driven by the resale market, but some recovery for mechanical recycling is also occurring.

“We want to make sure that our members see the business benefit of recycling automotive plastics,” said Kim Holmes, SPI’s senior director of recycling and diversion. “The way to get real buy-in is to have concrete data that builds the business case for these recovery models.”

Another goal of the ELV Recycling Demonstration Project is to collect data to guide design for recycling opportunities that can help inform future automotive design and recovery of plastics.

The project data and best management practices will be shared with the automotive and plastic recycling industries. The goal is to predict trends in demand for recycled materials, thus encouraging recyclers to invest in processing capacity.

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