Improving recycling of plastics from durable goods like cars and electronics will require big changes, including new standards for recycled content, vigorous pilot programs and more work on chemical recycling, a new study from the American Chemistry Council says.
The study, "Advancing Sustainability and Circularity in Durable Plastics Markets," aims to provide an early-stage road map for boosting recycling of plastics in five industries: automotive, building and construction, electronics, infrastructure, and medical.
While much of the government focus on reducing plastic waste is directed to packaging, ACC says durable goods, which consume nearly 60 percent of North American plastic resin production that's not exported, present both major opportunities and big challenges.
"There's a tremendous amount of work to do, and even though the road map identifies some innovations that are already available, it also is, I think, very clear that it's going to be difficult," said Gina Oliver, director of durables markets at ACC. "We have a long road ahead of us."
The study includes detailed recommendations for each of the five end markets but also has some common themes, including the need for recycled-content standards to boost demand and, to a lesser extent, extended producer responsibility laws to finance better recycling infrastructure.
The automotive end market seems poised for the fastest progress, Oliver said, since carmakers have their own goals and legislation like the European Union's end-of-life vehicle laws are pushing change.
"Auto seems to be the most mature at this point," she said. "OEMs have had recycled-content goals, for example, and sustainability goals for quite some time now, and they're continuing to increase those standards. We certainly see the EU leading in that space."
Oliver sees opportunities for each of the end markets to develop their own voluntary industry standards around recycled content.
"There's an opportunity to start getting an agreement on standards, particularly beginning with automotive," she said. "I think once we get that kind of checked off, I think other industries will follow suit. … I think we have a real shot at getting there within the next year or so."
She said auto industry stakeholders generally see recycled-content standards being set at around 30 percent.