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June 1, 2003

3 Min Read
European Industry Hunts For Recycling V Laws

Members of the European fiber-reinforced plastics (frp) industry, including material suppliers and processors, are hurriedly working on developing end-use markets for frp recyclate. Many frp processors may well be fighting for their futures as end-of-life vehicle (eol-v) laws enacted last April will force carmakers to recycle a higher percentage of vehicle scrap.

At the JEC composites conference in Paris in April, Robert Lesartes, recycling manager for the Renault Group, said, “We won’t say where smc (sheet molding compound) stands now, but can say it’s not in a good position.” But Fons Harbers, business development manager at DSM Composite Resins, and the most public voice of the trade group European Composite Recycling Concept (ECRC), counters that performance will drive demand, saying carmakers are betting on smc and other frp and citing parts found on new vehicles.

The ECRC was formed to help finance the cost of developing, validating, and promoting composites recycling, and identify markets for frp recyclate. It is a response to eol-v laws that place the responsibility of vehicle disposal on carmakers and strictly limit landfilling. With few exceptions, by 2006 manufacturers must ensure that at least 85% of the average weight of an eol-v is recovered and at least 80% is reused or recycled. The quotas rise to 95% recovery and 85% reuse/recycling by 2015. About 75% of a car’s weight is already recycled, but this is almost entirely metal. The eol-v legislation especially impacts what happens with the remaining 25% — the automotive shredder residue — which contains about 35% plastics and is usually incinerated (Nov 02 mp, 52; mpi, 60).

About 2% of frp recyclate is used as reinforcement and filler for concrete and asphalt and in some other applications, but much larger applications need to be established to meet recycling levels imposed by eol-v laws, notes Alain Marion, deputy general manager at processor iNoPlast, Saint Desirat, France. The ECRC predicts that European frp (thermosets and thermoplastics) production waste levels, currently about 160,000 tonnes/yr (352.8 million lb), will exceed 300,000 tonnes/yr by 2015.

A recycling answer is most urgently required for the automotive market, but as laws similar to the eol-v regulations are being formed for electronic/electrical goods and discussed in other markets, the ECRC’s goal is to develop programs for markets besides automotive.

Fees will be paid by all members in the supply chain to support ECRC programs, but levels are as yet undetermined. Fees will support recycling initiatives, Harbers says, as well as government lobbying and the hiring of consultants to help members reduce production waste. Harbers and others argue that the fees are an investment to ensure the survival of the composites industry.

Fee-paying processors will be entitled to use a “Green Label” on their products. An obvious key to the program’s success will be assurances from end-users, such as carmakers, that they will only accept parts bearing the label. The concept is to be implemented by the end of the year upon acceptance by the auto industry, says Harbers.

Developments could overtake the need for a Green Label program, though. Carmakers and the plastics industry have long argued that eol-v recycling quotas will hinder development of lightweight parts for cars, which, through improved fuel economy, have a far greater benefit on the environment than recycling. The recent comments of lawmakers indicate they agree with the argument.

Speaking at the Identiplast recycling conference in late April, Otto Linher, administrator of the environment directorate at the European Commission, allowed that changes might be needed, and said, “I’m aware of the debate that (eol-v) targets lead to problems with lightweight cars.”

And a representative of Germany’s environmental ministry made similar statements at the German plastics engineers’ (VDI-K) annual automotive congress in Mannheim in April.

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