Hundreds of pounds of plastics already go into a typical automobile, and that amount only is expected to grow in the years ahead.
While automotive metal recycling is firmly entrenched, that's not really the case for automotive plastics that typically end up in landfills after cars are scrapped.
The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. hopes to do its part to change that.
SPI is launching a program aimed at examining the potential to remove and recycle whole parts from end-of-life vehicles prior to them hitting the shredder.
This new effort initially will examine the potential of recovering whole parts made from polypropylene and thermoplastic polyolefins.
But SPI hopes the work will open the door to other types of resins.
Automobile recyclers already remove certain whole parts from vehicles prior to shredding, including mercury-containing switches and catalytic converters, for example.
So the folks at SPI are hoping to prove that this concept can be extended to whole plastic parts such as bumpers.
Consulting firm IHS Inc. estimates that the amount of plastic in a typical care will grow to 770 pounds by 2020, up from 440 pounds in 2014.
And because plastic is obviously much lighter than metal, that plastic takes up about 50 percent of the volume of materials in a new vehicle.
“It's a pretty lucrative business just on the metals side,” said Kendra Martin, senior director of industry affairs at SPI. “If we could figure out how to get all of that plastic out of the car.”
SPI's initial work involves identifying 12 to 15 parts that could potentially be removed from vehicles. The group wants to tie recyclers to end markets to prove that there is an economically justifiable way to divert these plastics from automobile shredders and, ultimately, landfills.
Capturing whole parts before shredding will help keep different recycled resins separate and potentially more valuable.
Think of a whole truckload of used homogeneous plastic auto parts headed to a reprocessor instead of a truckload of auto shredder residue made up of many different materials headed for disposal.
Washington-based SPI, in a recent report highlighting the challenges and opportunities in automotive plastic recycling, indicated there are 39 different plastic types used in vehicles.
“Where can we potentially go? What can be done? Try to link those pieces together. Once we can do that, I think it opens up the door to looking at additional resin types in the vehicle. When we really understand all of the plastics in the vehicle, I think that gives us justification to take that leap into auto shredder residue potentially,” said Kim Holmes, SPI senior director of recycling and diversion.
“We really do see this project as a stepping stone into diving deeper into auto. This is probably just the first of a number of projects we want to do,” Holmes said.