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Recycling PPE Waste into Reusable Resin for Car Parts

08 Jun 2022
Closing the Loop on Plastic Waste
The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly increased the amount of single-use plastic, especially as personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, disinfecting wipes, and medical-grade facemasks have become common among the general public. The need for public health, however, has ushered in a pandemic of another kind: one of environmental harm. Although efforts have been made to prolong use or otherwise reduce waste of these items, many areas have already seen negative effects of both properly discarded and littered PPE. It is estimated 89 million masks are used globally per month, and in the U.S. alone, the healthcare system generates 5 million tons of medical waste annually, not including drastic scale-up during the pandemic. Other countries have up to eighteen times that amount, far exceeding capacity at disposal facilities. To reduce the environmental threat from these items, which have become necessary to maintain public health, the Hyundai-Kia Materials Development Department collaborated with a U.S.-based specialty recycling facility to develop a supply chain for collecting and compounding these disposable items into reusable resin. The objective is to develop cost-effective material for automotive use, supporting Hyundai Motor Company global sustainability goals. Sourcing and collection was conducted at medical centers and research labs, with stringent protocols to eliminate any possible biohazard risks. Compounding was completed to meet internal specification requirements and preliminary testing shows promising results for mechanical performance. Targeting interior and exterior trim components for two vehicle platforms, this development is expected to divert 1 thousand tons of PPE waste annually. Although similar recycling efforts are in progress around the world, this will be world-first for the automotive industry, enabling drop-in replacement for current materials. Future work can include the addition of regional collection partners to support global production, as well as additional compounding such as the development of glass-fiber reinforced structural grades.
Amanda Nummy, Senior Polymer Engineer - Hyundai Motor Group