China's 2019 ban on imported waste left "a lot of companies, municipalities and cities to have to throw their valuable recyclables away in some cases," Oliver said.
"We just weren't able to handle capacity," she added.
ACC's recycling and recovery development team has been working closely with EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy to find such solutions but can't do it on its own, she added.
"The current processes that we have don't really provide a very good portfolio of solutions to get valuable materials out of a vehicle at end of life," Oliver said.
Materials harvested from a vehicle at end-of-life, if not immediately recycled, are often shredded, she said. Those materials can be cross-contaminated by other materials that end up in the shredder, "usually metals."
That contaminated plastic content then has very few approved uses, Oliver said.
"If recyclers would use dedicated shredders, that would solve the problem," she said. "It's an education thing, but it's also an investment. Shredders are hugely expensive, and the recyclers don't necessarily have the motivation or a requirement to use dedicated shredder. … It's not an economic benefit to them."
Other value chain shifts might include feedstock arrangements becoming "long-term supply agreements with waste management companies," Oliver said. "Or maybe backward integration where a plastics company might acquire an automotive shredder company or waste collection operation."
OEMs will need to design vehicles to be easily disassembled, something that is just beginning to happen because the concept of circularity, she said, "is still relatively new."
The industry is "enabling through adhesives, easy assembly of a vehicle, taking it apart for repair or end-of-life disassembly and recycling … [or] nondestructive evaluation," she said.
"The materials themselves also have to be designed to be recyclable," Oliver said.
"Polyolefins are a great success," she added. "They're fully recyclable, and we already have processes in place. … The recycled material actual meets a virgin-material requirement."
Plastics and polymer composites are "well suited" to meet design challenges when it comes to vehicle end-of-life disassembly and sorting, Oliver said.
The materials can be accurately and easily identified, she said, and can be put back into new vehicles "or another product in the value stream."
"A huge range of resins go into automotive applications, parts and assembly," Oliver said.
New and advanced recycling technologies will have to be able to process that diverse range "into valuable feedstock," she added.
Plastics can also contribute to lengthening vehicle life, with attributes like a high strength-to-weight ratio and durable, scratch-resistant, self-cleaning and antimicrobial surfaces.
"All of those things are going to be needed in order for us to capture that maximum amount of vehicle use," she said. "Those are going to play into circularity, but also they're going to play into future mobility trends that are happening, including ride-sharing and attracting millennials to vehicles.
"We have the unique ability to build nearly limitless solutions into the DNA of our materials," Oliver added.
Plastics also provide "a really wide range of options for reducing waste and improving efficiencies through things like parts integration, the uses of regrind, or the reprocessing of defective parts."
Automotive suppliers are "already ahead of the curve when it comes to optimizing manufacturing processes and helping the OEMS optimize their processes," Oliver said.
"While they're manufacturing components or parts, they have to be able to, if there's waste, reincorporate it either into another part of the vehicle assembly and design," she said. "Or bring it back to the drawing board, melt it down and it goes back in the circular process.
"There's more to be done and more to learn," Oliver said. "We have to look at recovery and recycling models more closely, and in coordination with and integrated with recycling value chains."
The industry should create "supply webs" or reimagine its supply chain as a "material swap" or "material exchange marketplace" to reach a closed-loop recycling process.