DaimlerChrysler AG is launching a new plan that will essentially force plastics-parts suppliers to add as much as 30 percent recycled content to future products.
The plan, approved Dec. 18 by the newly merged German-American carmaker, sets the pace as the most stringent and far-reaching recycling standard among automakers, according to recycling sources for several automakers.
For plastics parts, DaimlerChrysler is asking that suppliers provide at least 20 percent recycled content by weight in the year 2000. By 2002 and beyond, that percentage climbs to 30 percent, according to the company's policy.
DaimlerChrysler's policy — coming from the company's Auburn Hills, Mich., office — is a response to pressures in Europe to make vehicles more recyclable, plus beliefs that a recycling policy can help the company economically, said DaimlerChrysler environmental-affairs spokeswoman Sonja Bultynck.
``We're committed to this for the long term, and we don't buy into it lightly,'' Bultynck said. ``It's not going to be a shock to the system for our suppliers. But we consider this as something they should look at for all Chrysler and Mercedes products.''
The policy is a firm one that could affect the volumes and types of plastic parts that DaimlerChrysler uses.
``If [suppliers] can't gain recycled content with one material, they should pick another one,'' said Monica Prokopyshen, DaimlerChrysler senior specialist in product strategy and regulatory affairs. ``Basically, we want to look at what the industry is capable of doing.''
In North America, Ford Motor Co. also has a recycling strategy that was adopted in 1994. But that policy, which has stepped up use of recycled materials, is far more lenient that DaimlerChrysler's comprehensive new standard.
DaimlerChrysler will phase in the program immediately on all Chrysler-brand vehicles, said Robert Kainz, DaimlerChrysler senior manager for pollution prevention and life cycle management. Eventually, Mercedes-brand vehicles are expected to follow suit, but the level of involvement has not been determined, Kainz said in a series of written responses Dec. 22.
Through November, close to 2.8 million Chrysler vehicles were produced worldwide last year, according to the Automotive News data center. Automotive News is a sister publication to Plastics News.
The automaker's policy asks that suppliers provide products with a certain percentage of recycled content for each material type, Kainz said. The percentage is based on total material weight and not on specific parts.
The policy also affects materials other than plastics.
By 2002, the automaker is requiring a minimum of 25 percent recycled content from aluminum-based products, 35 percent from ferrous-metal parts and 25 percent from a general ``other'' category, which includes rubber, liquid chemicals and glass. The percentage of aluminum rises to 30 percent and metal to 40 percent by 2010.
The policy encompasses both post-consumer and post-industrial plastic. The use of post-consumer materials is critical to a strong recycling policy, Prokopyshen said. Not enough material can be collected from factory scrap to be reused in high volumes, she said in a Dec. 10 interview.
``We have to look at a vehicle's end-of-life use and locate ways for it to be easily dismantled,'' Prokopyshen said. ``Our policy says that every platform and every car after the 1998 model year has to meet the goals of finding recycled content.''
To date, however, plastic from discarded vehicles primarily has been sent to landfills, said Gary Wiesner, president of Pro Auto Recyclers Inc., a vehicle dismantling firm based in Williamstown, N.J. Dismantlers have not found cost-effective means to remove the material, clean it and transport it to a plant, he said.
However, DaimlerChrysler's new mandate could change that, he said. Part of the problem has been a lack of demand by car manufacturers, he said.
``This may be just what we need,'' said Wiesner, whose company runs five dismantling shops. ``We want to remove the parts from a landfill. If [DaimlerChrysler] can develop interest and help set up collection points, we'd see it as an economic plus to recycle.''
Chrysler Corp. issued its first recycling policy guidelines in 1993 and began phasing in products to meet its goals, Kainz said. At the time, the company did not set percentage goals.
The new standard says the recycled parts must not come at a penalty to the carmaker in quality, cost, weight, delivery or performance, Kainz said.
If a supplier cannot meet the standards, DaimlerChrysler will bring in an outside, life-cycle management consultant, Kainz said. Working with the supplier, the contractor will assess where a recycled part will cut costs or save delivery time, he said.
Suppliers will be asked to subsidize the cost of hiring the consultant, he added.
That life-cycle approach cuts to the heart of DaimlerChrysler's interest in recycling, Prokopyshen said. The automaker believes it can save money from not having to transport scrap material to landfills. Other savings come from lower tooling costs or resin volumes, Prokopyshen said.
World events could have piqued DaimlerChrysler's interest in recycling. Sweden has adopted a new law that asks vehicles to be at least 85 percent recyclable. The law requires manufacturers to identify how to disassemble vehicles and which materials can be recycled, said Kenneth Urban, recyclability engineer at General Motors Corp.'s Truck Group in Pontiac, Mich.
The United Kingdom and Germany — where DaimlerChrysler is based — are considering similar regulations, Urban said. Those regulations have gained the attention of GM, he said.
``If we do business in Europe, we have to make vehicles that can be recycled,'' Urban said. ``There's a new level of responsibility attached to those laws. We'll do more down the road if we want to sell our vehicles in Europe.''
DaimlerChrysler's new policy also has a goal to require vehicles to be 85 percent recyclable by 2002 and 95 percent recyclable by 2005.
Industry sources said that Ford also is rewriting its broad recycling guidelines. Calls to Ford environmental public-relations officials were not returned.
GM does not have a broad-based recycling policy but recycles parts in many of its truck and car lines, Urban said.