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December 2006

Progressive auto makers create interiors with environmentally friendly plastics

On November 15, 2006 the Ecology Center released its second annual “Automotive Plastics Report”, which grades the country’s eight leading car manufacturers on their plastics policies and practices. Ford and Honda have made significant improvements since last year, joining Toyota as leaders in the movement toward using sustainable plastics in indoor auto parts.

According to the American Plastics Council, the average vehicle uses 250 lbs. of plastic. A significant proportion of this is used to make interior auto parts such as seat cushions, armrests, steering wheels and dashboards. Many of these plastics are made with harmful chemical additives, such as phthalates in polyvinyl chloride (VVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFR). These additives off-gas and leach from plastic parts contaminating the air and dust inside vehicles, putting people at risk. Many of these plastics are not easily recycled and usually end up in landfills where their chemical additives can contaminate land, water and air.

The “2006 Automotive Plastics Report” focused on three areas in which some automakers are making significant progress including use of sustainable-sourced bio-based materials, improving interior air quality and reducing the use of PVC.

Automakers have stepped up their efforts to use bio-based materials that reduce petroleum use, life-cycle carbon emissions and vehicle weight. Toyota leads this movement by pioneering the development of an “Eco Plastic” made from sugar cane or corn, and building a pilot plant to produce it.

DaimlerChrysler increased the use of renewable materials in some vehicles by up to 98% over previous models by using natural materials such as flax and abaca fibers. Ford has developed a soy-based foam and will soon begin using a bio-fabric for seating.

Plastic components contain chemical additives that off-gas and contribute to “new car smell.” Ford is the only automaker that has certified some of their vehicles using an independent third-party certification standard for interior air quality.

Toyota has set a goal to reduce in-cabin volatile organic compound (VOC) levels in all vehicles globally by 2010; however they did not say to what levels they will be reduced.

Honda and Nissan are also reducing in-cabin VOC’s in order to comply with the voluntary Japanese Auto Manufacturers Association agreement.

Honda has set a goal to “apply PVC-free applications across its entire North American product line wherever feasible.”

The company has already removed PVC from most applications, demonstrating that virtually PVC-free vehicles are possible to manufacture.

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