After launching ACMA’s sustainability program in 2020, we learned how important it is to ask industry members the right questions and listen carefully to their responses. The association’s objective is to provide education and tools composites manufacturers need to reduce the environmental impacts associated with making their products and to educate their customers about the use-phase benefits of composite products. In-person meetings are an especially good opportunity for us to assess the information and resources industry requires.

Forty industry professionals participated in the Sustainability Forum at CAMX 2023 in Atlanta last fall. Part of the program was devoted to an online survey that provided instant responses, prompting discussion among participants. The survey questions were selected to inform the management of ACMA’s sustainability program and to provide a benchmark against which composites manufacturers can compare their own individual strategies and programs.

The questions and responses are provided here:

Q: Has your company received questions from customers about life cycle analyses (LCAs) and/or environmental product declarations (EPDs)?

Yes: 20

No: 7

End-user interest in quantitative information about climate and other environmental impacts is clearly on the rise. Customers are assessing the availability and use of information. Many ACMA members tell us that composites manufacturers in sustainability driven markets, such as infrastructure and automotive, will soon need to provide quantitative assessments in the form of LCAs or EPDs before their products will be considered.

Q: Regarding the recycling of in-plant scrap, we …

Are currently doing that: 9

Plan to start doing that in the next year: 3

Will possibly do that long term: 10

Have no interest in doing that: 0

About half of these companies are either recycling in-plant scrap or expect to start doing so in the next year, while this practice is under consideration by the other half. The primary driver for recycling is to reduce the cost of landfilling waste, while some companies tell us products with recycled content may be more attractive to customers.

Recycling as a means of reducing the cradle-to-gate climate impact associated with a product is not yet a significant factor behind these company programs, at least in part because the industry is not ready to quantitatively demonstrate actual reductions in carbon emissions. Preparing detailed LCAs comparing the manufacture of products with and without recycled content is needed to fully evaluate the use of recycled material.

Q: Regarding working with customers to recycle our products at end of life, we…

Are currently doing that: 7

Plan to start doing that in the next year: 0

Will possibly do that long term: 14

Have no interest in doing that: 1

After composite products are delivered to the customer, the manufacturer has little control over – and sometimes not even knowledge of – the products’ ultimate disposition. Apart from automotive components, there’s no established infrastructure for collecting discarded composite parts.

Left to the government, we will likely be faced with extended producer responsibility, meaning that the manufacturer of a product is held responsible for working with downstream partners to responsibly manage the product after it can no longer perform its intended service. A few composites manufacturers are talking to their customers about this, but not surprisingly this is considered a long-term objective for most companies.