Plastics are growing increasingly more used throughout the automotive industry. As the focus on finding sustainable uses for plastic also grows, many car makers have been looking at using recycled plastics in their cars. With plastic contributing to up to 50% of the volume of the average modern car, that means a lot of potential for plastic recycling.
Plastic is used mostly in car interiors: In its dashboard using ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), in its panel buttons, in its fabrics, in its foam seats, in air bags, and much more. Lightweight plastics are even finding themselves used throughout the body and in parts of the engine. But what companies are using the most recycled plastic and how are their efforts progressing?
Ever an industry leader, Toyota announced in its Environmental Report 2018, that 20% of all of the plastics used in their vehicle production efforts are made from recycled plastics or plant-derived plastics. Though not related specifically to recycled plastics within the cars themselves, they have also made use of recycled Prius test vehicles in order to produce recycled plastic benches for their own headquarters. Toyota Europe uses car shredder reuse and recovery methods that they claim have achieved 96.9% effectiveness in tests.
GM has been leading an landfill-free program to ensure that all of their waste is recycled, reused, or converted into energy. This includes reusing plastic bottles, by recycling their plastics into sound deadening covers used in their Chevrolet Equinox engines. Furthermore, they use recycled plastic caps and shipping aids to create protective radiator covers for their GMC Sierras made in their Fort Wayne factory.
The American manufacturer has recently made news due to the fact that it uses 1.2 billion plastic bottles per year in producing the recycled plastic that goes into many of their car parts. In particular, their EcoSport SUVs are fitted with plastics recycled in this manner. Ford also collects damaged plastic parts from their cars, such as recycling car bumpers, in order to repurpose them for new bumpers.
The Japanese carmaker has a Research and Development facility in Raymond, Ohio, that has consistently been looking into using recycled scrap plastic, including in insulation and sound-deadening materials used across all their ranges of cars. Honda uses recycled plastics as seat fabrics in their Acura cars. Honda also recycled bumpers to create splash guards and mud guards.
Amongst the first manufacturers to start bringing attention to recycled plastics in automobile production, they have used them in wheel liners for their Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200 series of cars. They also use recycled polyurethane foam in the seat cushions of their Grand Cherokee.
This manufacturer, like the others, has also been making use of plastic recycled from plastic drink bottles. Like the others, it has found the material useful in sound deadening materials for their cars’ dashboards and, like many of the others, also uses plastic from damaged bumpers to make new bumpers. They state that their Nissan Leaf has an interior is 60% made from recycled plastics, as well.
VW uses recycled plastic recyclates in their spare wheel compartment covers, wheel arch inserts, floor coverings, and in other vehicle components. They have recently announced that are targeting the recycling of 97% of raw materials in their end-of-life EV battery packs.
This premium car maker has announced its own targets, aiming to ensure that 25% of all plastics in each car produced from 2025 onwards are recycled plastic. They have presented and tested a version of their T8 plug-in as a proof of concept.
How recycling plastics are used in car manufacturing
Though plastics can make up to 50% of the mass of the average modern car, the current use of recycled plastics shows that a lot of progress has to be made before it’s more widely incorporated. The cases stated above indicated that the most common uses of recycled plastic are in sound insulating and protective covers for different parts of the car, as well as carpets, interior lining, and in bumpers, which are often directly recycled from pre-used bumpers. Still, many car producers are introducing targets to use more recycled plastic in the future.
There are many plastics used in electric vehicle batteries, as well, which many EV producers are aiming to reuse with the use of shredding machines. While this is an effective way of recycling many plastics, as well as ferrous and rare earth metals in the batteries, it is also a costly method, so how widely it can be implemented is not currently known.
The challenges of plastic recycling in the industry
The expensiveness of recycling plastic methods used in the automobile industry is one of the primary challenges that stops manufacturers from relying on recycled materials more broadly. Plastic polymers which are often used in the electronic components, for instance, are very low value, which means it can be extremely cost ineffective to recycle, compared to the inexpensiveness of simply buying and new using new plastic polymers.
Which manufacturers use the most recycled plastic in their car production?
While most major car manufacturers have, at one point or another, made headlines by using recycling plastic in their production lines, and many still use recycled plastic, there aren’t any currently any means by which they are compared. Indeed, there are no independent bodies that are measuring overall recycled plastic use throughout the industry.
However, while this might feel like a reason to be skeptical, several companies are running major ongoing plastic recycling schemes. This includes Ford’s free car recycling programme, the Recycle Toyota Motor programme and the General Motors landfill-free programme.
Recycled plastic can be used more broadly in the car making industry, as with any other industry. However, this will only happen so long as we, the consumers, continue to demand the use of more sustainable materials and manufacturing means.