A new report released by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) reinforces the plastic and polymer composites industry’s commitment to helping automakers and their suppliers transition toward a circular economy. The new report, Transitioning toward a Circular Economy for Automotive Plastics and Polymer Composites, outlines the progress many of America’s Plastic Makers® have already made in moving the needle toward circularity for automotive applications. It reviews nearly 50 product and process innovations that increase the circularity of automotive materials and components. The report also identifies five focus areas for industry-wide action:
- Developing advanced recycling and recovery technologies;
- Investing in a robust and coordinated recycling infrastructure;
- Designing high-quality automotive plastics for easier disassembly, refurbishment, reuse, and recycling;
- Conducting rigorous lifecycle assessments; and
- Exploring new business models that support circularity.
“Plastics and polymer composites already play a huge role in making vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient but transitioning to a circular economy will also enable us to reuse plastics. This transition to a circular economy for industrial goods will require the automotive industry and its suppliers to rethink the ways that vehicles and their materials are designed, constructed, used, and handled at end of life,” said Gina Oliver, senior director of ACC’s Automotive Team, which developed the report. “We’re accelerating this conversation to help quicken action toward our collective goal.”
Circularity presents a potential $4.5 trillion opportunity by 2030 for businesses1—$400–600 billion of which could go to automotive companies and their suppliers.2 We envision the circular economy as one in which molecules go directly from being used once, to being used again (and again), while continuing to create value and meet performance requirements. Doing so involves not just recovering, recycling, and reusing materials, but also eliminating in-process scrap production, refurbishing and remanufacturing products to extend useful service lifecycles, designing materials and products to be circular from the start, and reducing demand for finite raw materials. Circularity has significant environmental benefits and supports longer product lifetimes.
Many of America’s Plastic Makers® have made notable progress repurposing plastic waste and recyclates into automotive materials and parts and using renewable feedstock in plastics and polymer composites. Innovative materials separation and cleaning technologies and new advanced recycling technologies are helping to address end of life challenges, while progress designing plastics and systems for longevity, recyclability, and disassembly has resulted in advanced materials with properties that help minimize issues like cross-linking, high odor, and off-color that have historically often been associated with recycled plastics.
“The automotive plastics and polymer composites industry stands ready to help rethink the ways that vehicles and their materials are designed, constructed, used, and handled at end of life,” said Oliver. “We are committed to working together and with automotive OEMs, shredders, recyclers, research organizations, and governments to conduct the kind of strategic, whole-value-chain thinking and coordination that will help the automotive industry transition toward a circular economy.”