Plastics from ELVs Study
Roadmap to Increase Recycling of Auto Plastics from End-of-Life Vehicles in Canada – Summary and Key Findings
Canada has a 2030 target for zero plastic waste. In 2019, Deloitte and Cheminfo Services produced a Plastics Report for Environment & Climate Change Canada (ECCC) that estimated the auto sector produces about 309,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually, or about 9% of the total. This represents the second largest sectoral producer of waste plastics after plastic packaging which accounts for 47% of the total. Other significant sources of plastic waste are textiles and electronics (both at 7%), and construction waste at 5% of the total.
About 1.6 million vehicles are retired in Canada each year. Each end of life (EOL) vehicle contains about 175kg of various plastic resins. Recycling rates for plastics contained in end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) are currently low because markets are not available for many of the plastics currently found in vehicles, the plastics tend to be contaminated with other plastics and metal components. Technologies do not currently exist to recycle all of the different plastic components and multi-resin parts found in vehicles.
The objective of the ARC Auto Plastics Roadmap was to identify the research steps, projects and activities needed to increase the recycling of pre-shredder auto plastics in Canada.
An on-line survey was sent out of 500 auto recyclers across Canada with over 90 responses, followed up by interviews with selected auto recyclers. Suggestions on how the GOC could facilitate an increase in auto plastic recycling included: providing bins for plastic collection at each auto recycler site; providing shredders to shred collected plastic to reduce volume before transportation; providing regional shredders; providing a bounty to recover labour and full costs for removing marketable auto plastics; creating end markets for auto plastics; creating regional processing facilities; better labelling auto plastics for easy identification of plastic resin; identifying types of plastic that are reusable/recyclable and pay per piece recovered; and providing funding to transport auto plastics to recyclers.
A time in motion/tear down study was carried out on 5 vehicles which represent popular vehicles in the Canadian market that were available at the auto recycler location in late January, 2022 (Ford F150; Dodge Caravan; Toyota Corolla; KIA Soul and Toyota Highlander) to measure the amount of time required to extract different plastics from end of life vehicles as part of the auto parts harvesting process at auto recycler sites (to recover engines, transmissions and other auto parts for resale). The study concluded that it was very expensive to recover auto plastics at this stage in the value chain, as the measured rate of plastics removal was 28kg/hour. At this rate, it would take approximately 34 hours to remove 1 tonne of auto plastic from ELVs at an estimated cost of $3,400/tonne. While this is not considered a realistic or economically viable approach, a few specific actions hold promise.
Thirty-one well established industrial plastics recyclers across Canada were interviewed to determine those who were interested in the ARC Auto Plastics study. Two of the companies contacted took samples from the tear down study. A number of university researchers active in plastics recycling research were contacted to determine their level of interest in exploring technologies to process mixed plastics from the tear down/time in motion study. Some of these are considered promising partners for the next phase of the research.
The ARC Roadmap suggests a three-year research program potentially diverting over 83,000 tonnes of auto plastics from landfill with a total estimated budget of around $6,340,000 over 3 years (2022-2024). The six elements of the 3-year research program along with estimated budgets are presented in the table below. A 3-year evaluation should be carried out in 2024, and the plan for the following three years 2025-2027 should be developed based on the evaluation. The rationale for each research element is presented below:
#1 – Develop Auto Plastics Database –The ARC Auto Plastics Roadmap research study identified a serious lack of data on the plastic resins and composites used for various auto components in different makes, models and years of vehicle. This information is needed for long term program planning and evaluation. Development of an auto plastic database could be hosted by ARC (or another suitable organization) and would provide the data needed to evaluate program performance, as well as for longer term program planning.
#2 – Collision Repair Sector Research – Research for the ARC Auto Plastics Roadmap identified that the collision repair sector could potentially be a promising location where auto plastics could be recovered for recycling. A research project is proposed to quantify the potential opportunity.
#3 – Bumper Recycling Enhancement – Research for the ARC Auto Plastics Roadmap showed that bumpers are made of TPO which is a recyclable plastic resin. Some bumper recycling activity is already underway in Canada. Bumpers are easily removed from most but not all EOL vehicles, therefore minimal labour cost is involved. The proposed enhancement program would provide a bounty to auto recyclers and potentially collision repair locations (see research project #2 above) to encourage auto recyclers to remove and store bumpers separately for collection and recycling.
#4 – Gas Tank Recycling – Most gas tanks in Canada are made of a combination of plastics (some are steel). Gas tanks are a good target to increase the recycling of auto plastics as they need to be removed from vehicles anyway for depollution. The challenge is that technologies are not yet available to recycle the combination of plastic materials used in gas tanks, which also contain some gasoline residues. This research project would support technology development to explore and establish end markets for gas tanks, eventually leading to a gas tank recycling program.
#5 – Mixed Auto Waste Plastics Research & Development: The tear down/time in motion study identified a reasonable opportunity to separately collect all auto plastic removed from a vehicle during the regular process of parts harvesting at auto recycler sites. However, the plastic recovered is a mixture of plastic resins for which markets are not currently available. This research project would support technology development to establish end markets for collected mixed plastic from auto recyclers.
#6 – Vehicle Lights Recycling Enhancement– Vehicle lights are readily accessible in EOL vehicles and contain valuable plastic resins but it is time consuming to dismantle the lights into the separate plastics for recycling. A research program is suggested which could lead to a bounty program if determined that this approach is economically viable.
Actions To Move to A Circular Economy For Auto Plastics
In addition to the practical hands on elements of the Roadmap presented above, six actions are suggested to move Canada forward towards a circular economy for auto plastic:
- Action #1: Clarify the federal government and CCME’s plans and actions to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030.
- Action #2: Engage the Canadian automotive industry to become leaders in policies, plans and actions to increase automotive plastics reuse (e.g., dismantling) recycling and recovery (i.e., from auto shredding processes) and to reduce overall automotive plastic waste generation.
- Action #3: Measure and track reliable data on current auto plastic waste generation, reuse, recycling and auto plastics waste diversion
- Action #4: Establish a multi-stakeholder body to focus on automotive plastics and other after-market critical issues
- Action 5: Investments in auto plastics reuse/recycling innovations, collection and processing infrastructure and skills training are critically needed.
- Action #6: The Canadian and global automotive sector is undergoing profound and positive changes. The ”re-make” of the industry towards electric vehicles presents a unique opportunity to begin to design new EV products with “Design for Environment”, allowing for easier removal of plastics for repair, reuse and recycling in mind.