Portland, Pennsylvania-based Ultra-Poly Corp. and the Plastics Industry Association have developed a method of collecting and recycling plastic bumper covers for automobiles in a way that is “economically feasible” for businesses.
Ultra-Poly will “easily” process 1 million pounds of bumper trim this year, said Kevin Cronin, vice president of sustainability and research and development, hoping to hit “around 10 million pounds” one day.
Now the compounder is working to create enough demand to reach higher volumes. After all, said Cronin, he thinks “there are 10 [million] to £ 15 million accessible [Ultra-Poly], with a little work. “
The secret, he said, lies in the collection strategies that Ultra-Poly wants to expand “so that it is less regional and we are able to move from further distances”.
Car scrapyards, a traditional source of used bumper panels, are a “major mound” in project development, Cronin said.
“There’s an awful lot left on the fascia,” he said, like indicators, headlights, recessed brackets and wiring harnesses. Scrap and recycling yards often have no economic incentive to separate the materials, added Cronin.
A better source for the bezels are car repair shops, where “everything that can be saved from the bezel … everything is removed and reused”.
“Auto repair shops have dumpsters full of bumpers that they don’t want to pay for [into a] Landfill, “says Patrick Krieger, director of sustainability and materials at the Washington-based plastics trading group.” Companies also don’t want to have to buy these back from auto repair shops. “
These bumpers, Cronin said, are “significantly more slimmed down” with “lower levels of contaminants … which are relatively easy to remove” using mechanical recycling processes and metal separation technology.
Ultra-Poly also assessed the physical properties of the bumper material in two forms for potential product applications – pellets from bumpers with paint and pellets from bumpers without paint – because “processing is costly,” Krieger said.
“When you remove paint, you create another stream of waste to deal with,” said Cronin. “If there are enough outlets for the material without having to do it, it makes more sense to do it that way.”
None of the bumper program materials that Ultra-Poly is currently working on can go into a Class A automotive finish, he said. “But they could certainly go into other applications on a vehicle that don’t require a Class A paint job.”
Ultra-Poly uses the material as a component in compounds for products like dunnage, bins, and bins, Cronin said.
“We aim to expand the program to sufficient volume so that we can continue to work on the technical cleanup of the material,” he said. “We are pretty confident that we will be able to [the material] back in the cars … if we can collect this stuff in bulk. “
The Plastics Industry Association’s New End Market Opportunities program has worked to address logistical and technical challenges in recycling plastic products across various supply chains, Krieger said by providing collaboration and information from other associations that are “subject matter experts”.
“[Cronin] had to create this collection stream myself, ”said Krieger. “He took in the information, he did a lot of creative problem solving, and the end result is a great product stream. … Hopefully others [companies] can learn a lesson from this. “
Large quantities of bumper panels need to be consolidated by compacting them “on site” when they are picked up, Cronin said, and “getting them back in a meaningful amount”.
“You need to be able to get the material to your building economically,” he said. “It takes some ingenuity … and the ability to have multiple stakeholders.
“There have been a number of attempts to do this,” said Cronin. “Without that strong market penetration, that really comes through the presence of an organization like that [the association] and having that direct feedback from OEMs and other users that will kick-start making sure programs like this see the light of day. “
“We are pretty confident that we will make it” [the material] back in the cars … when we are able to collect this stuff in significant quantities. ‘