The growing use of plastics in automobiles will lead to a reduction of recycling of cars for their metal content. The result will be an increased burden on alternative waste disposal methods unless automobile plastics are also recycled. Because of limited landfill capacity, this option is becoming less available. Incineration has promise technologically but faces public resistance. Recycling is possible but requires attention at the design phase, as well as consideration of markets. Source reduction is popular among consumer groups and legislators but has impacts on industry well-being.
IT TOOK A GARBAGE BARGE wandering the ocean for many of us to realize that there really is a problem with solid waste disposal in many parts of the United States. Although most of the focus so far has been on waste from residences and small businesses (municipal solid waste), automobile disposal is bound to get a share of the attention - probably in the near future.
Historically, automobile junkyards have had a reputation as community eyesores, places for children to get hurt or get into trouble, havens for disreputable characters, and a general blight on the communities they occupy. This changed, at least somewhat, with the growth of the steel recycling industry, and the implicit promise that old junk cars were not going to stay around for decades until they finally rusted away.
Now there is a new threat to automobile recycling - the growing use of plastics in cars. There is a perception that articles made of plastics are not recyclable, and since they usually do not degrade within any reasonable time frames this would mean that discarded plastics will be around forever.
The problem, then, is if automobiles are going to increasingly be made of plastics, what is going to be done with all this material when the cars have reached the end of their useful life?