Written by Ashley L. Paterson and John Rawlins
We all love Rocky, Sandy and Scrat but, at least away from the silver screen, squirrels actually tend to be quite a nuisance. They dig holes in our lawns to bury acorns, steal from our bird-feeders and vegetable gardens, invade our attics in the winter and…eat the plastic components of our cars? Apparently, yes; as car manufacturers increasingly turn to the use of plastics derived from natural sources, squirrels appear to be increasingly intent on entering the car-eating business. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Toronto was recently named the “Raccoon Capital of the World”.
As reported by the CBC, several automakers, including Honda, Kia, Mazda, Ford and Toyota, now use resins derived from soy, rice husks, corn, castor oil and agave to make the plastics they use in their vehicles’ seat cushions, mouldings, and wirings.
These bioplastics are more environmentally friendly than traditional plastics, but at least anecdotally (academic research does not yet appear to have reached a consensus), seem to attract squirrels and other rodents. In at least one instance, bioplastics were blamed when a chewed-up wiring component in a vehicle’s fuel injection system caused it to malfunction while in motion.
For Canadian car manufacturers, and Canadian manufacturers that use bioplastics in alternative applications more generally, the potential for litigation, and other adverse consequences, certainly exists. In the United States, several class action lawsuits have been launched against car manufacturers alleging that the bioplastics used in their vehicles’ wiring systems attract rodents. Although one such action was dismissed as a result of significant variance in the plaintiffs’ claims, the potential for similar litigation in Canada, including both individual claims and claims brought by way of class proceedings, remains.
As a result, manufacturers currently using bioplastics in their products should consider:
- maintaining open communication with their customers by discussing the possibility that rodents might be attracted to the bioplastic components of their products and suggesting any potential best practices that can be implemented to limit rodent access to those components;
- offering solutions, like one manufacturer’s ‘cayenne-pepper infused anti-rodent tape’ (which is a real thing), that deter rodents from considering any bioplastic components as food; and
- conducting research to confirm whether the specific bioplastics they are currently using actually attract wildlife and, if so, adjusting their practices accordingly.