End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) project proves viable market for recycled plastics from automobiles

The results of the final two phases of the End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) Recycling Demonstration Project were released by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) today. Phases II and III of the ELV Project demonstrated that recovering valuable thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) from ELV bumpers is feasible.

A bale of post-consumer automotive bumpers.

Launched in 2015, the ELV Project was designed to study the viability of collecting and recycling plastic car parts, including car bumpers, to eventually be broken down and used as materials to make new products. 

“Finding innovative ways to recycle and reuse plastics has a direct impact on the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills,” said PLASTICS Interim President & CEO Patty Long. “By developing lasting, sustainable end markets for these materials, even those extracted from scrap cars and trucks, PLASTICS is giving scrap materials a new life through recycling.”

Over the course of the three phases of research for the ELV Project, four plastic bales from four different sources were processed by three plastics recyclers across the U.S. and each bale sample met the range of quality that would make it eligible for use in a wide range of applications. From these findings, PLASTICS was able to create a directory of automotive recyclers who specialize in using ELV materials.

Following phases II and III, PLASTICS will share case studies from the ELV Project. There is a vested interest from brand owners in using recycled ELV bumpers in their manufacturing and design process.

“The results from the ELV Project indicate that there is technology and a market to recycle plastic from vehicles,” said PLASTICS’ vice president of industry affairs Kendra Martin. “Organizations have been able to make new parts from car bumpers. Re|focus proved to be a wonderful platform to share ideas and brainstorm about these sustainability efforts.”

Meagan Marko, product line manager for Noble Polymers, LLC, one of the member organizations involved in the ELV Project, spoke at a Re|focus panel about the commitments made to using innovative materials within automotive manufacturing. “The properties of the material were very close to what we would see from a recycler—we saw a lot of promise in the material and we think if the collection and the stream can be scaled up, then there will be a lot of use for it in the market,” said Marko.

Involved in the ELV Project were the following organizations: ACI Plastics, Asahi Kasei, Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), Boston Auto Wreckers, Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA), Erema North America, Fenix Parts, Gary’s U-Pull It, Geo-Tech Polymers, Innovative Injection Technologies (i2Tech), Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), John Deere, Kal Trading, Manar Inc., Metro Recycling, Midland Compounding & Consulting, Milliken, Noble Polymers, Padnos, Post Plastics, Ravago Recycling Group, Series One, Standard Auto Wreckers, Toyota, TPEI, and Ultra-Poly Corporation.

Approximately 12–15 million vehicles are scrapped each year in the US. The average lifespan of a vehicle is estimated to be about 11 years, and increasingly those vehicles are comprised of more and more plastics.  Factors like increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and the increased design freedom afforded by plastics are driving the increased use of plastics in new vehicle design. Recovery of plastic components before shredding is largely driven by the resale market, but some recovery for mechanical recycling is also occurring.

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