Approximately 12 to 15 million vehicles are scrapped each year in the United States. The average lifespan of a vehicle is estimated to be about 11.5 years, and increasingly those vehicles are comprised of more and more plastics. Recovery of plastic components before shredding is largely driven by the resale market, but some recovery for mechanical recycling is also occurring.
SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association has announced a new project that will test the belief that increased automotive recycling is beneficial to recyclers and the plastics industry. The aim of the “Automotive End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Recycling Demonstration Project” is to develop a method of collection and recovery of polypropylene (PP) and thermoplastic olefin (TPO) auto parts in a way that demonstrates technical and economic feasibility.
“We want to make sure that our members see the business benefit of recycling automotive plastics,” said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at SPI. “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 gather information to better guide design for recycling opportunities that can help inform future automotive design and recovery of plastics.
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“The automotive supply chain truly sees this as an opportunity to effect change on a number of levels, bringing meaningful change to the front and end of life,” SPI’s senior director of industry affairs Kendra Martin said.
Once gathered and analyzed, the project data and best management practices will be shared broadly with the automotive and plastic recycling industries. The goal is to predict trends in demand for recycled materials, so recyclers can invest in processing capacity with greater confidence.
Factors like using plastic to lighten the weight of vehicles helps meet heightened Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and the superior design freedom afforded by plastics are driving the increased use of plastics in new vehicle design.
“As plastics continue to be a material of choice for vehicles due to their weight differences and other energy-efficient benefits, we are thrilled to play a leading role with SPI in a program and will continue to explore the benefits of recycling plastic automotive parts,” said Michael E. Wilson, the CEO of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA).
SPI is partnering with the ARA, Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC), Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), and a number of independent plastics and automotive recyclers to make the program a reality.
Automotive plastics recycling may still be nascent, but companies have long been working to close the loop on aluminum and other metals. Novelis has been working with both Jaguar Land Rover and Ford to realize the circular resource opportunity and light-weight design advantages of aluminum. Ford has also been investigating design alternatives that could reduce the need for adhesives and make recycling easier.
Last year, the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) cautioned manufacturers about their material selection and encouraged the use of lightweight materials that do not impede recycling. Carbon fiber, for example, can help reduce carbon emissions by making vehicles lighter, but it also makes recycling much more difficult.