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Where are Volvo Cars on the future of recycled vehicles?

Auto Recycling World speaks to Sandra Tostar, a Technical Specialist in Polymer Materials and Plastics Influencer at Volvo Cars, about the company’s stance on the future of recycled vehicles and how more recycled plastics are being incorporated into their materials for new vehicles.
Where are Volvo Cars on the future of recycled vehicles? p
Sandra Tostar

Volvo Cars have been making announcements over the years as they push towards purer recycled vehicles. Can you provide a little background and a progress report on the current situation?

It all started with the recycled plastics demo car that was built and launched in 2018 alongside the announcement of our ambition to have 25% recycled plastics and/or biobased materials in our cars by 2025.

The demo car was an enabler to discuss recycled plastics in a wider arena. It showed the potential to increase recycled plastic content and that we were serious about achieving our ambition.

At an early stage, we realised that the whole value chain needed to be involved for us to be successful. We even talked to the recyclers to make them understand our requirements for the components. This made them understand how important it is to keep track of the material and make sure that, for example, no prohibited substances will be in the final product. At the other end of the value chain, we have also had good communication with the authorities and policymakers to share and gain knowledge.

The increased interest in recycled plastics has also resulted in several research projects, where again, the whole value chain has been present, including Volvo Cars.

The progress in fulfilling our recycled plastics ambition is very promising, and we are on track to reach our 2025 ambition.

Sustainability is now as important as safety at Volvo Cars. We recognize that a strong focus on sustainability is critical to our future success. We have bold ambitions and targets within climate action, circular economy and ethical and responsible business. 

We aim to be a climateneutral company by 2040, including through selling only fully electric cars by 2030. As a car company, we are part of the problem of climate change and need to be part of the solution. Embracing the circular economy is key to reducing our climate impact and making better use of finite and valuable resources. The 2025 recycled plastics and bio-based material ambition is an important part of our circular economy strategy. 

There are many partnerships with tier 1 companies involved in this process. Have you experienced any resistance to your requirements from your suppliers as you focused more on recycled products? Or has there been a certain synergy between all of those involved?

I would say that many tiers have been very collaborative on this journey. We have been working on this intensively for the last four years, so all our suppliers now know that we mean business and are supportive. And our sourcing documents state that we require sustainable material solutions from our component suppliers. Through collaboration, all parties learn from one another, and a more sustainable approach is good for all of us.

The journey with the big chemical companies has been bumpier. They were slower in joining the movement but realised after a while that they would lose business if they were not supportive, as more and more automotive companies want sustainable materials.

Regarding recycled materials in vehicles, which advancements have excited you the most and what should we expect to see in the future?

Not even I thought it would be possible, but, three years after the recycled plastics ambition was revealed, we now have recycled plastics in visible, grained and in-colored exterior parts of the car.

In the 2021 facelift of the XC60, all black plastic components of the front bumper are made from recycled plastics with a recycled content between 40-100%. That is a great achievement.

Also, I would like to highlight the fantastic design engineers’ work. They have learnt about recycled plastics from scratch, including what to ask the material and component suppliers. And have arranged material and component tests that have both failed and succeeded. They have never given up. True heroes!

Considering how leasing vehicles is becoming a popular alternative, ownership of the vehicle will stay with the manufacturer. What will this mean for the car as it comes to its end-of-life? Will Volvo Cars become more involved in vehicle dismantling? If so, to reach its goals, will we see a more in-house approach from Volvo?

There are plenty of opportunities for future end-of-life vehicles components and materials. What is clear is that the value of both will become higher since it is better to take care of whole parts with known material composition, than chopped up pieces of plastic in a mix. The quality will become higher. It is a way of securing both spare parts and feedstock of materials for coming cars.

Exactly how this setup will look is not yet ready but is being worked on. What is clear is that collaboration throughout the value chain is a must.

As previously mentioned, you have worked tirelessly with material suppliers to make your vehicles more sustainable. As we see these new approaches to recycling from manufacturers, will there be a time when they will reach out to auto dismantlers and recyclers to work closer together and learn from their experience?

We are already at the time when the material suppliers reach out to us to get back the materials they once sold to the component supplier. As the set-up looks today, we, as the car manufacturer, can continue to work on the circular business: use mono materials or at least plastics in the same family of origin, design for disassembly and design for recycling.

But for sure, we also see that primary material suppliers starts collaborations with recyclers or even acquire them to have a recycled plastics alternative. The more specialised recycled plastics suppliers generally have reliable long-term contracts with recyclers and dismantlers to get a stable source of infeed material. 

To find out more about Volvo Cars, go to www.volvocars.com 

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