As automakers strive to put more recyclable plastic parts on their vehicles, they are running into a major problem: A dizzying array of new resins, fillers, coatings and adhesives has made the task of reclaiming plastic all the more difficult. ``At first, it appeared that this would be a much easier issue than it turned out to be,'' said Robert Kainz, a specialist in materials toxicity with Chrysler Corp.
For years now, automakers have been trying to come up with ways to make the identification and salvaging of junked plastic parts easier. But the material mix in new cars has become more complex.
And the situation is not likely to change, said Susan Yester, executive for vehicle recycling programs at Chrysler.
``It appears that we're going to be using multiple materials in our cars,'' she said.
Last year, Chrysler called representatives of parts manufacturers, resin suppliers, auto dismantlers and recycling companies to its technology center in Auburn Hills, Mich., to address the issue of polymer compatibility. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. also sent people to the meeting, Yester said.
The idea was to get everyone together who has a role to play in the recycling chain and do some brainstorming, Yester said. Chrysler also used the opportunity to brief its suppliers about future vehicle programs and recycling goals.
The Big Three, through their Vehicle Recycling Partnership consortium, also is eager to set up a uniform system that suppliers can use to report the makeup of materials they use in parts. That way, suppliers could use a common system for submitting reports to U.S. automakers, Yester said. She declined to predict when a new reporting system will be in place.
In another effort to track plastic materials more efficiently, the American Plastics Council is working with the Vehicle Recycling Partnership to prepare a plastics compatibility ``matrix,'' which will be used as a guideline for identifying types of resins commonly found in cars.
For its own part, Chrysler also is working with suppliers to produce more recyclable parts and reduce toxic elements included in some materials, according to Yester.
In mid-1994, Chrysler began asking suppliers to provide detailed information about materials, including toxic elements. The information is used in reports the automaker submits to environmental regulators in government, Yester said. The same type of information has been required of contractors doing work in Chrysler facilities since late 1993, she added.