When it comes to its new recycling policy, it looks like DaimlerChrysler AG is grading its suppliers on a curve — and plastics are being set up for failure.
Let me start out by saying I like DaimlerChrysler's plan. It is in the automaker's interest to voluntarily urge its suppliers to incorporate recycled content.
Some European nations already are making noise about legislating specific recycling rates and recycled-content goals for automobiles.
Although some automakers have actively championed recycling in recent years — Ford Motor Co. has led the charge — the reality has been that the auto industry isn't known for being recycling-friendly. In recent years, recycling has played second fiddle to efforts to reduce weight and cost (while improving quality).
From an environmental point of view, those priorities have been right on the mark. But automakers (and suppliers) must recognize that while increasing their use of plastics, they must make an effort to ensure that they don't kill the automotive recycling success story.
DaimlerChrysler approved its new policy Dec. 18. I like the new policy because it sets an ambitious, but achievable, target for plastics companies. But I'm afraid that's not the case for some competing materials.
For plastic parts, DaimlerChrysler wants suppliers to provide at least 20 percent recycled content by weight in the year 2000. By 2002 and beyond, that percentage climbs to 30 percent.
In contrast, the automaker is requiring a minimum of 25 percent recycled content from aluminum-based products by 2002, 35 percent from ferrous-metal parts and 25 percent from other materials, including rubber and glass. The percentage of aluminum rises to 30 percent and metal to 40 percent by 2010.
According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, that industry's overall recycling rate already is more than 68 percent. The Aluminum Association Inc. reports similarly lofty numbers: about 90 percent of post-consumer automotive aluminum scrap is recovered and recycled.
In contrast, the recycling rate for rigid plastic containers is about 20 percent, and the rate for durable goods like automotive parts is much lower.
While DaimlerChrysler's plastics recycling goal is aggressive, it is realistic. For example, it allows suppliers to count post-industrial scrap in their recycling calculations.
Good thing, because post-consumer nylon, acetal and ABS would be pretty hard to find.
DaimlerChrysler's recycling policy has the potential to change the plastics content of automobiles. But the metal recycling targets are unfairly low, and those numbers need to change.
Loepp is Plastics News' managing editor.