1996-04-01

Recycling of Us Automobile Materials: a Conundrum for Advanced Materials 91A090

This paper discusses the difficulties associated with imposing recycling imperatives upon advanced materials development by examining the case of automotive materials substitution and its impacts upon the recyclability of the automobile. Parallels are drawn between today's issues, which focus upon the recyclability of the increasing polymeric fraction in automobile shredder fluff, and the junked automobile problem of the 1960's, when the problem of abandoned automobiles became a part of the environmental and legislative agenda in the US and overseas.
In the 1960's, both the source and the resolution of the junk automobile problem arose through a confluence of technological and economic factors, rather than through any set of regulatory influences. The rise of electric arc furnace steelmaking and the development of the automobile shredder were sufficient to virtually eliminate the problem - so much so that today's problems are incorrectly viewed as novelties.
Today's automobile recycling problem again derives from technological and economic factors, but the influence of regulations upon both the source and the resolution of this problem are far stronger today. While there is no lack of technological solutions to the problem of automobile shredder fluff, none yet provides scrap processors with the kind of profit opportunity necessary to implement them. In some ways, it is implicit in advanced materials markets that there is little to no demand for recycled forms of these materials, and, in the absence of these markets, there are few reasons to expect that the solution to today's problems will be achieved as neatly as the last time

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