The result of granulating a car bumper.

The result of granulating a car bumper.

A trial collection of car bumpers has diverted over 1 tonne of plastic from landfill in a 4-week period.

The trial, held in Christchurch during March and April, was conducted by 3R Group in partnership with the Motor Trade Association (MTA), with six of their affiliated collision repair workshops taking part. 3R General Manager Innovation Trevor Tutt says the trial, which collected 273 bumpers, was successful in demonstrating the logistics around the collections are feasible.

The collected bumpers were granulated, with the material to be used for further research into outflow solutions. This also involved some of the material going to recyclers and plastic manufacturers, Trevor says.

The majority of bumpers found on passenger vehicles in New Zealand are made of the recyclable plastic polypropylene (PP), the same material used to make a myriad of everyday items like clothing pegs, chairs and food containers. In 2016 more than 77,000 bumpers were imported to replace damaged units, while around a further 142,500 cars were taken off the road the same year.

However, none of the approximately 1,400 tonnes – the weight of 1,300 Toyota Corollas – of plastic bumpers taken off vehicles each year are currently recycled. Instead they are stock piled or sent to landfill.

These stockpiles were evident as the first day of collections netted 140 bumpers, while the following three weekly collections averaged at around 44 bumpers.

Internationally, car bumper recycling is common practice. This is especially so in countries with product stewardship legislation for end of life vehicles, stricter landfill controls and higher landfill costs.

Reports show the plastic recovered from car bumpers is high quality, can substitute virgin resin and be used in the manufacture of new automotive parts and even new bumpers, therefore closing the loop.

Internationally both Toyota, Ford and Mazda now use polymers from recycled car bumpers in the manufacture of new bumpers and other automotive parts. The lack of automotive manufacturers in New Zealand mean this is not an option.