Oakdene Hollins recently published a report with focus on a circular economy for automotive plastic.
Plastic is a major component in modern cars. When it comes to the disposal of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), capturing plastic for reuse or recycling poses a clear challenge for the automotive industry.
The ELV Directive is designed to promote materials reuse and recycling, but it uses weight-based recovery targets which have so far not required a focus on plastics for compliance. The study notes that the overall mass of plastic used per new vehicle is increasing – with predictions of up to 17% more plastic per vehicle by 2030.
The supply challenge of plastic recyclate is coupled with low levels of recycling for automotive plastics from ELVs, with most currently landfilled. The poor rates of automotive plastic recovery come from the economic unviability of removing and recovering most plastics from current end of life vehicles, exacerbated by limited infrastructure to recycle the plastics and poor market demand for the resulting secondary raw materials.
There is therefore a case for change which is outlined in this study. Interventions to support the expansion of automotive recycling into opportunities for utilizing automotive plastics for ELVs either within the sector, or elsewhere could be made through developments in infrastructure and investment in new technologies.
The analysis provides an in-depth review of vehicle plastic use and plastic waste, and a comprehensive assessment of end markets for automotive plastic recyclates. It focuses on the three major polymers used in vehicles: Polypropylene (PP), Polyurethane (PU), and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC).
Aspirations of both increasing recycled plastic content within vehicles, and in finding adequate markets to stimulate automotive plastic recovery have technical, economic and regulatory challenges. To support the development of a more circular economy for automotive plastics, this study concludes with the following recommendations:
- Ensure there is clarity around the automotive industries position on the recycling of automotive plastics – or not. Clear signals will support the industry in moving collectively to both increasing recycled content within vehicles and increasing plastics recycling and will challenge the reliance on landfill and incineration for ELV plastics
- Enhance the current policy framework to support plastic recovery and recycling for automotive. This would provide the stimuli needed for engagement at scale by OEMs, and also provide confidence for the SMEs and their investors working in ELV vehicle businesses to invest in the R&D and infrastructure needed to reach both recycled content and recycling targets
- Establish stakeholder driven organisation(s) to focus and drive increased automotive plastic recycling as focused and collective action can improve success when dealing with challenging waste
- Innovate to improve sorting and segregation to enable appropriate feedstocks for recycling. Disassembly enables cleaner streams of plastic to be recovered but is currently not economic, whilst recovery of plastic from automotive shredder residue (ASR) is technically complex.
Download the full report here