As the automotive industry evolves towards a more sustainable future, and the fact that it must achieve global and regional circular economy goals, the issue of material selection is one of the biggest challenges.

The area of automotive packaging is often overlooked due to the diverse types of packaging materials currently being utilized and due to the emphasis on the products themselves being packaged.  However, with automotive technology advancing and with the high cost of raw materials, protecting these critical and expensive automotive components requires careful consideration of design, material selection, and of course, sustainability and the ability to meet today’s stringent circular recycling requirements.  The fact that many of these automotive components and their packaging are being shipped around the country and around the world means consideration must be paid to; the ability to protect, durability, weight, and reusability, all while meeting circular economy goals at end-of-life.

To meet these challenges, a group of Automotive Industry Professionals has formed the Supplier Partnership (SP) for the Environment.  This SP group is a recently formed organization that provides a forum for global automotive manufacturers and their large and small suppliers, in partnership with the US EPA and other government entities from around the world, to work together toward a shared vision of an automotive industry with a positive environmental impact.  SP members represent organizations from across the automotive value chain, including several of the world’s largest automakers and major Tier1 and Tier 2 suppliers

The SP group has recently released a new document titled: Sustainable Packaging Specification Recommendations for Automotive Manufacturing Operations.  This document provides a concise list of packaging products used in the Automotive Industry.  The list identifies materials that are preferred, detrimental (not preferred), and not-recommended (generally not fully recyclable).  A number of examples are provided in the guideline ranging from; Preferred, such as cardboard, wood, non-crosslinked plastic sheets and films, single component materials, fully recyclable plastic materials such as PET, PP, and PE–including EPP and EPE, and other materials that can be collected and recycled into the same products again, thus meeting the circular economy requirements.  The goal is to try–where possible, to not use detrimental materials, such as mixed materials that cannot be separated or glued materials; and finally, to phase out not-recommended materials, such as OSB board, single-use tape, metal banding, EPS foams and crosslinked PE (XLPE) foams, or any material that cannot meet the circular economy goals of recycling back into the same product from which they came.

To ultimate sustainability goals for a circular economy is to reduce the demand for finite raw materials and to assure proper management throughout the product’s life cycle for the purpose of end-of-life disposition, collection, and recycling back to the base material for reuse.

The automotive industry–through groups like the Supplier Partnership (SP) for the Environment–is working hard to standardize sustainable packaging guidelines for the automotive industry.  These guidelines can be applied to many other industries, and further standardization, both locally and globally will help us all achieve a more knowledgeable supply chain for the purpose of more sustainable raw material selection for every phase of design, construction, use, and collection end-of-life in support of a more circular economy.