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Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program

Automotive Manufacturing Sector—P2 Opportunities

The U.S. automotive manufacturing industry, as defined by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes 3361-3363, implements pollution prevention (P2) projects in its operations. To track trends in P2 and other sustainable practices, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program analyzed the automotive sector’s TRI data to characterize: 1) the major sources of chemical releases; 2) how these sources and release quantities have changed over time; and 3) the types of practices employed to reduce pollution. The analysis focused on 2005 to 2015. To read the complete Automotive Manufacturing Profile, see Chapter 6 of Green Energy to Sustainability (PDF) (26 pp, 622K). Exit

Waste Managed

For TRI reporting, the quantity of “waste managed” includes TRI chemical waste managed through recycling, energy recovery, treatment or released to the environment. Between 2005 and 2015, the quantity of waste managed per vehicle decreased by 12%, while releases alone decreased by 51%.

 

Notes: 1) Quantities per vehicle are calculated by dividing the automotive manufacturing sector’s annual waste managed and releases, respectively, by U.S. vehicle production. Automotive manufacturing sectors include: Motor Vehicle Manufacturing (NAICS 3361), Motor Vehicle Body and Trailer Manufacturing (NAICS 3362), and Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing (NAICS 3363). 2) Managed waste quantities include release quantities.
Sources: U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory - 2015 National Analysis Dataset, Retrieved January 2017; Federal Reserve Board of Governors, 2005-2015

Chemicals

Chemicals released to air make up the largest portion of the automotive manufacturing industry’s TRI-reported releases due to the use of volatile compounds in paints and other coating formulations. Metals and metal compounds account for about 65% of the total quantities of TRI chemicals managed as waste by the industry. However, when considering releases alone, the industry releases TRI organic solvent chemicals in quantities that exceed those for metals and metal compounds. The figure below compares the 10 chemicals released in the largest quantities in both 2005 and 2015. With the exception of manganese and nickel, releases of these chemicals decreased dramatically from 2005 to 2015.

 

Source Reduction / Barriers Reported to TRI

Reduced environmental releases are driven in part by the implementation of source reduction activities. Each year, facilities report their newly implemented source reduction activities to TRI. Facilities can also report the barriers to source reduction that they encounter.

 
Source: U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory - 2015 National Analysis Dataset, Retrieved January 2017
 

Observations from the TRI data regarding the source reduction activities reported by automobile manufacturers in the last year of the study (2015) include:

  • Within the automotive manufacturing industry, 110 facilities reported 285 source reduction activities for 63 chemicals and chemical categories.
  • For metals, “raw material modifications” is a common source reduction activity since metals are primarily used as raw materials in the form of metal alloys for vehicle bodies and parts.
  • “Surface preparation and finishing” is commonly reported for organic solvents as they are primarily used in paints and coatings. The use of organic solvent-based paints and coatings has declined significantly over the past decade due to their replacement with powder and water-based paints. This shift has led to a decline in releases for some of the most common organic solvents, such as xylenes, toluene, and glycol ethers.

Reduced environmental releases are driven in part by the implementation of source reduction activities. Each year, facilities report their newly implemented source reduction activities to TRI. Facilities can also report the barriers to source reduction that they encounter.

 
Source: U.S. EPA Toxics Release Inventory - 2015 National Analysis Dataset, Retrieved January 2017
 

Observations from the TRI data regarding the barriers reported include:

  • For the 2015 reporting year, 345 barriers were reported by the automotive manufacturing industry.
  • The most commonly reported barrier category was, “No known substitutes or alternative technologies” (presented as “No Substitute” in the graphic). This barrier may have a variety of causes including a lack of awareness of substitutes, stringent material specifications, or product testing/performance requirements. Barriers in this category were primarily reported for metals and metal compounds which are present in the sector’s input materials, such as steel or aluminum alloys.

Sustainability in Automotive Manufacturing

Even as automobile manufacturers have realized environmental improvements by implementing source reduction activities, the sector continues to develop innovative methods to prevent pollution. Current and emerging opportunities for improved environmental performance in the sector include:

  • Reductions in material use. Efforts to reduce material use at its source have the most direct impact in reducing TRI chemical releases. For example, the use of solder that contains lead is being eliminated, and the use of copper in brake pads has been reduced.
  • Transition to environmentally-friendly coating/painting options. UV-curable paints have provided manufacturers with low-energy coating options, and water- or bio-based paints greatly reduce the use of organic solvents.
  • Application of bio-based materials. Where material use cannot be reduced, bio-based materials are emerging as safe, biodegradable alternatives. Automakers are already incorporating plant-based materials in vehicle interiors and coatings. Bio-based alternatives are also being developed for more functional vehicle components such as tires and tubing.
  • Increased recycling throughout the life-cycle. High recycling rates of manufacturing materials and end-of-life vehicles have mitigated TRI chemical releases and supplied automakers with recycled materials.

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