The development of new car materials from secondary raw materials is beneficial if these materials meet the strict requirements of the automotive industry, such as with regard to safety and user-friendliness. If the materials do not meet these requirements, they can be reused in other industries at the end of their life cycle as a secondary raw material. The metals are then melted down and used for various applications. Plastics from cars can also be used in a variety of products. One of the most difficult residual materials to process are minerals, currently used as substrate in road construction.
Safety and user-friendliness are important considerations in choosing between recycled and primary raw materials, but price is still often the decisive factor. A well-known example are plastics. When the oil price is low, it is less expensive for manufacturers to use new plastics than plastic recyclates. The choice is an easy one in this case. Too easy. It would be better to make a decision based on the total carbon footprint. In the case of plastics, how much does it cost to extract the oil from the ground? And what is the environmental effect of this on both people and the environment?
During their long life span, cars undergo numerous repairs and just as many part replacements. The use of second-hand parts that meet all legal requirements is a good alternative when replacing parts. The repair, overhaul and reuse of parts is better for the environment and cheaper for consumers. But to make second-hand parts a successful option, we have to convince consumers and mechanics that they are a worthy alternative.
Other conditions are that recycling needs to be technically feasible and the recycled parts have to satisfy all legal requirements. But the recycling process also needs to be economically viable. ARN is not pursuing circularity at any price, but continuously considers cost management, recycling efficiency and the carbon footprint. We do feel it is important, however, to define ‘affordable’ in broad terms. Those who succeed in recycling and using materials at a higher quality add value to those materials. In this case, not only do the materials yield more, but they can be recycled again in the future.
When it comes to waste management, Lansink’s Ladder is the concept most often used (and the standard in terms of waste hierarchy, ed.). This is the hierarchy used on the European level to establish priorities in processing waste materials. The car industry and recycle chain make every effort to avoid waste and to reuse products and materials within the limits of technology and economic capacity. The recycled materials must meet the legal requirements for use in new products and the recycling of those materials must be financially feasible.
The European Commission advocates a simplification and harmonisation of definitions and calculation methods within the EU in order to establish the performance and costs of recycling and the value of the recycled materials. ARN supports this vision. It is only with good measurement methods that are the same for every member of the EU and that support recycling practices that we can compare the costs of recycling to the benefits in a realistic manner.
Resources from waste
The European Commission aspires to achieve a high-quality recycling of materials within the EU. ARN endorses this vision. But would like to point out that much high-quality recycling began as low-quality recycling. A good example is our PST factory in Tiel, where we extract valuable raw materials from shredder waste.
When it comes to recycling, room for experimentation and innovation is a prerequisite for success, such as the experiments carried out in the PST factory. In Tiel, we are always on the lookout for new applications and techniques to not only improve recycling performance, but also keep recycling costs manageable.
In the CEP, the European Commission emphasises chains like food and nutrients, construction and demolition, biomass and water. When dealing with plastic waste and critical raw materials, its proposals affect the car recycling sector. We feel it is important that every effort be made to recover raw materials from waste.
As regards plastic waste, we have already accomplished a great deal. Thanks to investments made by the recycling chain, the recovery of raw materials from this type of waste is already a reality. When it comes to critical raw materials, we would like to point out that lithium, indium and tantalum are processed by the car industry into high-quality materials. These materials can be found in electronics like LED lights, LCD displays and sensors in throttle bodies, as well as in batteries for electronic cars. Due to the scarcity of critical raw materials, however, manufacturers are using them in an increasingly compact form. We need to recognise that this makes it more challenging to recover these materials. A great deal is possible from a technological point of view, but there are economic limits at this time. These considerations are based on the costs of recovering the materials and the value of the materials recovered.
Stimulation programmes and knowledge sharing
The European Commission is aiming high with its Circular Economy Package (CEP) – and justifiably so. To recycle materials and reuse parts at as high a quality level as possible requires technological innovation. Governments need to encourage innovation through stimulation programmes on both the national and European level.
ARN also advocates knowledge sharing. Quite a bit of knowledge is being acquired both within and outside of the recycling industry and in both the Netherlands and elsewhere that can be shared by market participants, so that we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.
Monitoring the progress towards a circular economy
The various member states currently translate European measures from the CEP into national regulations. The challenge is to measure how the transition to a circular economy is progressing. In the case of the recycling chain, do all parties involved have sufficient knowledge to innovate? And what kinds of solutions do they come up with? It is also important to measure the effect of the transition to a circular economy. How is the use of energy and raw materials developing? What will the balance be between the two? And what about the value of the recycled materials?
It is only once we are able to measure the steps we are taking that we will know how round the circle really is.
Those who succeed in recycling and using materials at a higher quality add value to those materials.
A great deal is possible from a technological point of view, but there are economic limits at this time.