Congratulations to Ford Motor Co. for its effort to boost recycling, and recycled content, of plastics used in its vehicles.
Most original equipment manufacturers brainlessly thwart efforts to use recycled plastic. This is not because OEMs are opposed to recycling. They simply don't take the time to consider how they can incorporate recycled content into their products. Or they needlessly specify virgin resin when recycled materials could work just as well.
But Ford is bucking the trend by preparing a directive that will set aggressive, mandated levels of recycled content. Ford would not share its goals until it notifies suppliers, but the automaker promised it will emphasize using post-consumer resins.
The word from Ford follows a similar standard issued by DaimlerChrysler AG in January. That automaker is asking suppliers to provide at least 30 percent recycled content by weight by 2002.
Automakers aren't making these moves merely to bask in the public goodwill. Recycling has been a nonissue for several years now, and we doubt that most Americans would spend even $100 more to buy a car with elevated levels of recycled content.
The carmakers' aggressive positions probably have more to do with European Union legislation that may be adopted within a few months. The so-called manufacturers' responsibility proposal would require automakers to recycle parts at the end of a vehicle's life or pay to have them landfilled.
Government action, or even simple threats to take action, can be effective catalysts for change.
And change is warranted. It's not that we want the government to set arbitrary recycling levels. It's far better for the automakers to investigate where recycled content can work safely, and then let recyclers and virgin resin suppliers compete for each application.
But first, automakers and other OEMs need to make the effort to find applications for recycled plastic, and set ambitious — and realistic — targets for their suppliers.