Plastics Parts

The Future of Auto Recycling



The automobile is one of the most recycled items on the planet. When a vehicle reaches its end-of-life stage, its usable parts are removed and resold and the remaining hull is crushed and sent through an auto shredder to recover any remaining metals. Unfortunately what’s left, the Auto Shredder Residue (ASR) i.e. plastics, wood, rubber and other non-metal materials, ends up in the landfill. With plastic playing a bigger role in vehicle design, due to its ability to improve safety, comfort and reducing emissions, more plastic parts end up being thrown away. In fact, very few plastic parts are recycled. The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) set out to see if plastic parts could also be as viably-recycled as metal parts. To do this, the association created the End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Recycling Demonstration Project.

“The ELV project is one of many demonstration projects that PLASTICS is leading to develop long-term, sustainable ways to give plastics a new life through recycling,” said PLASTICS President & CEO William R. Carteaux.

The project was broken up into three phases. Phase I focused on proving both the technical and economic feasibility of collection and reprocessing for bumpers. Bumpers were selected for their homogeneity in material, which is typically thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) as well as sheer size, at an average of 20 pounds per vehicle, according to PLASTICS.

PLASTICS partnered with the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) to identify an ARA member who operated an auto salvage yard that could test the practicality of bumper recovery on a large scale. The Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) also expressed interest in simultaneously testing recovery and recycling potential for bumpers in Canada in partnership with the Auto Recyclers of Canada (ARC). Gary’s U-Pull It in Binghamton, N.Y. was chosen as the U.S. test yard. Phase I looked at the differences in two types of bumpers, those with paint removed and those without. The project kicked off in 2016 and the Phase I results were announced in February, 2018.

The results showed that the recycler participating in Phase I was able to create very high-quality TPO pellets at a cost that is less than prime TPO. While the recycled TPO could not be a direct replacement for virgin TPO in a high-demand application like bumpers, the material exhibits very good properties that could make the material appropriate for non-critical applications on vehicles or feedstock for manufacturing in other industry sectors.

“While the recycled material could not directly replace virgin TPO in a high-demand application, we found that the material was very strong, and could be used for less-intensive applications on vehicles or serve as a feedstock for products in other sectors,” said Kendra Martin, PLASTICS’ vice president of industry affairs. “These results are extremely encouraging for our ultimate goal -to create a large-scale recovery model for automotive plastics - and marks an important step in the plastics industry’s work to make sure all plastic materials - including bumpers - are put to their highest and best use.”

“These initial results are a promising indicator of the potential value that exists in recycled plastics from sources that haven’t been tapped yet,” added Carteaux

Phase I also included some initial end-market exploration for the TPO. It found the material could be used for a non-critical part of a vehicle by a U.S. auto manufacturer, marking an important milestone for the project. The report stated that due to these promising findings, further work was warranted to prove replicability and scalability in Phases II and III.

Phase II goals are to continue to demonstrate a viable collection process at auto shredding operations, further test recycling of bumpers, without paint removal as well as utilizing other paint removal technologies and understand physical properties of the TPO processed under different conditions.

Phase II goals include to seek potential end-market users of the recycled TPO from ELVs, mold and test products utilizing the recycled TPO and measure the potential demand for TPO across the United States.

PLASTICS ELV Recycling Demonstration Project could give auto recyclers a new opportunity to recycle plastic parts in future. Instead of ending up in a landfill, these parts could be put into their own scrap revenue stream.

You can read the full report and its findings at www.plasticsindstury.org.

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