Recyclers applaud EU’s new plastic recycling goal for cars, automakers wary
By Frédéric Simon | EURACTIV.com
29-08-2023 (updated: 29-08-2023 )
News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
Underwritten / Supported Produced with financial support from an organization or individual, yet not approved by the underwriter before or after publication.
Carmakers may sometimes add carbon fibres to plastics in order to improve their robustness, which makes them “challenging to recycle,” said ACEA, the EU carmaker’s association. [1Roman Makedonsky / Shutterstock]
Print Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn WhatsApp Telegram
The European Commission’s proposed mandatory target to incorporate at least 25% of recycled plastics into new cars was met with praise from recyclers and scepticism from carmakers and the plastics industry.
Plastics are everywhere, the saying goes, which is also true in the automotive sector.
By volume, 50% of today’s cars are made of plastic, according to EuRIC, the European recycling industry association. That includes dashboards, bumpers, handles, buttons, casings, ceiling fabric, seats and seat belts, airbags, carpeting, etc., the group said in a paper.
Because plastics are lightweight and contribute to fuel efficiency, demand for the material in the auto sector has kept increasing over the years. Nowadays, an average car contains between 150 and 200 kg of plastic, EuRIC says.
To ensure more of those are recycled, the European Commission tabled new legislation in July covering vehicle design and end-of-life treatment, focusing on improving recycling and reuse of materials.
One of the key objectives is that 25% of plastics used in new cars come from recycled materials, a quarter of which must originate from end-of-life vehicles. Overall, 30% of plastics from scrapped cars should be recycled, up from around 19% today, the Commission said in its proposed new regulation.
EuRIC applauded the move, saying in a statement that “these targets are absolutely needed to transition towards a circular economy for plastics in the automotive sector.”
The European Commission wants to make vehicles easier to recycle, proposing new design rules to make it simpler to recover valuable materials, and pushing for a greater use of recycled content in the production of new cars.
Car industry wary
Automakers, for their part, are wary of the Commission’s proposals.
Carmakers may sometimes add carbon fibres to plastics to improve their robustness, making them “challenging to recycle,” said ACEA, the EU carmaker’s association. “Technologies may not yet be available” to enable recycling at market scale, the group pointed out.
“While European automakers are not opposed to recycled content targets for plastics, they must be realistic and technically feasible,” ACEA told EURACTIV in emailed comments, warning of “potential pitfalls if targets are unworkable”.
Those worries are echoed by Plastics Europe, a trade association, which says high-quality polymers used in cars “can be very difficult to recycle”.
According to Plastics Europe, the Commission’s proposed 25% recycled content target “can only be met with a combination of mechanical recycling and innovative technologies such as chemical recycling,” for which heavy investments will be required.
“We urgently need an enabling policy framework. Industry needs a green light to invest in chemical recycling and mass balance,” Plastics Europe said.
EuRIC, for its part, says the recycling industry is ready to meet the challenge. “State-of-the-art technologies operating at an industrial scale are ready to turn automotive plastics waste into recycled plastics that can be used again by the automotive industry or in other applications,” the association says.
The Commission’s proposed recycling targets will be “a game-changer” to pull demand for recycled plastics and “boost investments in green industrial value chains,” said Alejandro Navazas, scientific and policy advisor at EuRIC.
The European Commission, too, believes the new rules will give a much-needed shot in the arm to the recycling industry.
“Mandatory targets for recycled plastics are expected to boost the competitiveness of dismantlers, as they are the primary suppliers of these parts and of plastic waste destined for recycling,” the EU executive argued in a memo.
Overall, new circularity obligations in the auto sector, like incorporating recycled plastics into new cars, “will lead to a modest increase of prices, estimated to be of less than €40 for a consumer purchasing a new vehicle,” the Commission estimates.
Recycling organisations have urged Brussels lawmakers to make the use of recycled plastic mandatory in new vehicles, a move they say will help to bring cars in line with circular use principles. But car manufacturers are hesitant to back the proposal.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]
Print Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn WhatsApp TelegramCar industry wary