• Plastics Beat

Recycling TPO Bumpers – A New Market Opportunity for Dismantlers and Shredders?

At the recent 2018 Plastics Recycling Conference, ISRI showcased its leadership in advancement of plastics recycling on a number of fronts. ISRI participated in a session focused on the emerging opportunity to recycle thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) automotive bumper covers from end-of-life vehicles (ELVs).

As one of three panelists—with co-panelists Kim Holmes, Sustainability VP, PLASTICS, and Sanjay Dutta, CEO, Geo-Tech Polymers—I discussed the environmental benefits of recycling TPO bumpers. From where I was sitting (literally), we had excellent rapport (and a lot of fun) during the Question & Answer period as Moderator Jonathan Levy, ISRI director of member services, fired off question after question.

I started off with background about ELV recycling and its historical (and current) reliance on shredding and separation technologies to produce specification-grade streams of shredded ferrous and nonferrous metals. Recycling shredded plastics have not been part of the value proposition for ELV recycling, in large measure because of historical regulatory barriers. However, ELV plastics have been a missing piece of ELV recyclability and sustainability, especially as the plastics content of vehicles has increased. About 5 years ago, ISRI succeeded in encouraging EPA to remove the regulatory barriers for shredded plastics, which now may be recycled via specific protocols.

TPO bumpers harvested from ELVs prior to shredding offer high-quality material for recycling without the need for substantial separation or the protocols necessary for recycling shredded plastics. The annual quantity of TPO bumpers available for recycling is substantial, estimated at roughly 100,000 metric tons; however, this quantity is likely spread out across more than 300 shredders in the U.S. and their supply chains. Logistics is an important issue, and the on-going ISRI /PLASTICS collaboration to demonstrate TPO bumper recycling is addressing this head-on. The environmental benefits from recycling TPO bumpers are expected to result mainly from offsetting primary TPO production and are substantial, with estimated annual reductions of energy consumptions and emissions equivalent to powering 30,000 homes and removing 26,000 cars from the road, respectively.

While more work is needed to get there, initial indications look promising for recycling TPO bumpers. This could also encourage the recycling of other plastics from ELVs, which I would also credit as environmental benefits from TPO bumper recycling. 

by David Wagger, ISRI Chief Scientist and Director of Environmental Management

Plastics Beat

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