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How to drive the Circular Economy in the auto sector, by Keith Freegard, Director of Axion Polymers

A new set of legislative drivers which use ‘more carrots, less sticks’ is needed if the automotive sector is to deliver greater sustainability within the Circular Economy for recycled plastic content in new vehicles, suggests a leading plastics recycler.

Fresh strategies are required, such as rewarding ‘desirable’ behaviours and encouraging individual producer responsibility linked to fiscal benefits, to encourage motor vehicle manufacturers to reuse more plastics from end-of-life vehicles (ELV) in new components, says Keith Freegard, Director of Axion Polymers.

Keith will be speaking at the ‘Plastics in Automotives’ session on October 1st at Interplas 2014, where he will outline current legislation influencing the sector and how key drivers for change can potentially deliver market benefits throughout the supply chain.

Having developed and implemented the technology to deliver the 2015 EU recycling target of 95% for vehicles at their award-winning Manchester SWAPP facility, Keith suggests it’s now down to the designers, manufacturers and marketers at the big branded VMs to pull together and make sustainable vehicles a positive choice for consumers.

Automotive Shredder Residue (ASR or shredder ‘fluff’) from scrap cars is processed at Axion’s Shredder Waste Advanced Processing Plant (SWAPP) to recover useful materials including plastics, which are supplied to its advanced processing site at Salford. Here they are further refined to produce 100% recycled high-quality polymers suitable for injection moulding back into a wide range of applications, including new automotive components.

With an annual 200,000 tonnes processing capacity, Axion can separate the non-metallic fractions from the equivalent of about 600k vehicles a year.

Further investment in recent months at the Salford polymer refinery has provided state-of-the-art separation technology to produce very pure, high-quality polymers and expanded extrusion capacity. This allows new ABS and PS plastic grades to be manufactured in addition to Axpoly r-PP51, a high-performance grade of black polypropylene (PP) used in the BMW Mini air vent component.

Keith says: “The rapidly-growing automotive sector offers tremendous scope for re-using recycled polymers sourced from old vehicles entering the UK’s end-of-life vehicle ‘graveyard’ back into new car components. We call this circular flow of valuable materials the ‘Grave-to-Cradle’ model.

“We believe we have delivered the material recovery to half of the full ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ economic circle. Now it is the responsibility of the automotive designers and materials specialists to specify ‘recycled-content’ sourced from ELVs in order to fully close the loop.”

Axion’s research shows many sizeable hidden components in motor vehicles could incorporate recycled polymers, such as heating, ventilation and ducting units. Similarly, components under seats, in the boot and under bonnet area also ideal candidates.

“Future legislation will have an impact on changing behaviour, but ultimately there has to be a fundamental shift in attitudes towards the use of recycled content, as well as how it is marketed,” continues Keith.

Sustainable sourcing as part of a larger corporate plan can offer vehicle manufacturers a number of market benefits, such as a reduction in materials supply risk, enhanced consumer product appeal and cost savings of up to 20%. Continuity of supply is another key benefit, given that the recycled polymers are sourced from a very large, highly visible and dependable waste stream.

Latest official figures show 1,163,123 vehicles were scrapped in the UK in 2012, but this omits the high proportion of undeclared cars which are scrapped without correct paperwork to issue a Certificate of Destruction, thus remaining as ‘ghost vehicles’ on the official UK car-pool held by DVLC. More realistic is circa 2 million vehicles per year reaching end-of –life, with an average weight of just over one tonne per vehicle.

Keith adds: “Given that a higher proportion of the materials are non-metallic in more modern cars, this reliable source of plastic-rich waste vehicles is all good news. In successfully replacing virgin resin, ELV-derived polymers offer sustainable recycling opportunities to kick-start the circular economy for cars.”

Axion Polymers is part of the Axion Group that develops and operates innovative resource recovery and processing solutions for recycling waste materials. The Group works with a wide range of clients within the recycling and process industries on the practical development of new processing and collection methods.

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