The global auto industry needs to do a better job of using environmentally friendly plastics like those made from plants, and it lags in using recycled content in its plastic parts, a new report charges.
The Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based advocacy group, and Clean Production Action of Spring Brook, N.Y., said in their Feb. 23 report that Toyota Motor Corp. of Tokyo fared best among the six top-selling carmakers in setting up a sustainable plastics program, earning a C. The center also urged car companies to phase out vinyl,
The group chose to highlight plastics because they are becoming more prevalent in cars, and because steel and nonferrous metals tend to be readily recovered from junked cars while most plastics are thrown out, wasting resources, said Jeff Gearhart, one of the report's authors and campaign director for the center.
About 4.3 billion pounds of plastic are used in cars each year in the United States, and plastic makes up 7.5 percent of cars, on average, by weight, the report said.
The center praised Toyota for using a polylactic acid plastic made from sugar cane and corn in one car it sells in Japan, and for setting measurable goals, such as using 20 percent recycled content or renewable resources for its plastic parts in Japan by 2015. And it noted that Ford Motor Co. of Dearborn, Mich., used plastics from renewable resources in its Model U concept car.
``However, the fact that the top performer, Toyota, received a C grade means there is still a lot of room for improvement across the board,'' said Charles Griffith, auto project director at the Ecology Center.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. of Tokyo, DaimlerChrysler AG of Stuttgart, Germany, and Ford all received D+ grades. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. of Tokyo and General Motors Corp. of Detroit fared worst, receiving D's.
Gearhart said the U.S.-based companies tended to fare worse, in part, because the U.S. government puts less environmental pressure on manufacturers.
The group brought the report to the Global Plastics Environmental Conference, held in Atlanta Feb. 24-25, where it got a mixed review from plastics industry officials.
James Kolb, vice president-automotive for the American Plastics Council and head of APC's Automotive Learning Center in Troy, Mich., said auto companies are researching bio-based plastics. He said Ford presented a paper at the conference on its attempts to use natural fibers in composites, and the challenges it faced.
``They haven't come up with a material that meets the performance and cost issues,'' he said.
Kolb said in an interview at GPEC that there are other challenges, such as material consistency. And he said plastic has made cars lighter, resulting in gasoline savings.
Mike Fisher, senior director of technology with Arlington, Va.-based APC, said industry takes the report seriously, but said the Ecology Center's criteria are vague. He also cited the many challenges in switching to bio-based materials.