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Mon March 1, 2021

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) and Pennsylvania plastics recycler Ultra-Poly Corporation have successfully tested a process to collect and recycle plastic automobile bumper covers. According to a case study published today, the process could divert approximately one million pounds of plastic from landfills annually.

The study also found the recycled material—thermoplastic polyolefins (TPO)—displays 85% to 90% of the flexibility and elasticity found in virgin material, making it ideal for numerous end-product uses.

The process, developed by Ultra-Poly, is unique in that it does not rely on third-party collectors and processors to gather and pre-process the bumper covers. Ultra-Poly collects used covers directly from body shops, where they have already been removed from the automobiles and their reusable connected components salvaged.

“This project demonstrates that true post-consumer material does not have to be collected only at the curbside and pre-processed by materials recovery facilities,” said Kevin Cronin, VP of Sustainability and R&D at Ultra-Poly.  “It can also be sourced directly at the point of generation, reducing the carbon footprint and yielding more consistent recycled products.”

Point-of-generation collection also assures a steady stream of source material; a single body shop can yield up to thirty scrapped bumper covers per month. The body shop itself saves money on dumpster space and is relieved of the concern that damaged covers may be “re-manufactured” and sold to them as replacement parts.

“This case study is a win all around for body shops, recyclers, manufacturers and the environment,” said Tony Radoszewski, CEO of PLASTICS. “We’re proud to have innovative member companies like Ultra-Poly out there, seeking new ways to eliminate plastic waste, providing new sources of valuable materials and expanding capabilities, which means more jobs in the recycling sector.”

The Ultra-Poly case study is part of PLASTICS’ larger New End Market Opportunities (NEMO) program, that focuses expertise from throughout the plastics supply chain on developing new methods for the recovery, recycling and reuse of plastic products. NEMO places special emphasis on difficult issues, such as plastic grocery store bags. Another NEMO project has resulted in the successful use of such recycled polyethylene film in producing asphalt for road construction.

“PLASTICS is fully committed to supporting the concept of a circular economy that recovers, recycles and reuses plastic products,” said Patrick Krieger, PLASTICS’ Director of Sustainability & Materials. “NEMO is all about keeping plastics out of the landfill or environment and in the marketplace, where they can support the livelihoods of more than a million people who work in our industry.”

It is important that any effort geared toward establishing a circular economy takes into consideration a number of factors—material utilization, waste management, energy/water use and emissions, to name a few, said Krieger. By reducing the carbon footprint involved in a beneficial recycling effort, making life easier for both recyclers and source-material providers and transforming bumper covers from waste into a valuable resource, the process outlined in the case study completes the circle.

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