“Circular manufacturing” has the promise to reduce waste by reusing parts to make new cars. There are glimmers of hope, but they are currently outweighed by challenges.
This article is part of our series on the Future of Transportation, which is exploring innovations and challenges that affect how we move about the world.
Car tailpipes belch out an estimated 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly, but cars begin to pollute long before they ever hit the road. And they continue to pollute long after they are junked. They begin to use energy and emit carbon through extraction and production of the steel, rubber, plastics, glass, lithium and leather used to build them. When scrapped, they molder in junkyards, emitting chlorofluorocarbons, and dripping oils and acids that are a hazard to groundwater.
Now scientists, environmentalists, policymakers and car manufacturers are advancing an idea that could change that. An industrial concept called “circular manufacturing” aims to break the cycle of take, make, use and toss, by building cars whose components can be endlessly reused to make new cars.
The idea is new enough that there is no standard definition — there isn’t even an agreed-on name. It’s variously called circular manufacturing, the circular economy or manufacturing in a circular economy. Nevertheless, circular manufacturing is part of the European Green Deal, which establishes the groundwork for new regulations for car companies.
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