Although automotive plants are not generally known for their clean environmental records, Chrysler Corp. said it is making the environment a top priority for its first new vehicle assembly plant in 26 years.

The nation's No. 3 carmaker said its Jefferson Avenue plant, now under construction in east Detroit, will be loaded with environmentally sound practices that range from reusing delivery containers to recycling paint sludge.Although the $1 billion plant will not start producing a new Jeep vehicle until early 1992, Chrysler demonstrated a new system to recycle paint sludge at its Dodge City truck plant in Warren, Mich. The system will also be used at Jefferson, as well as at its minivan plant in Fenton, Mo.

In a joint development with Haden Environmental Corp. of Troy, Mich., Chrysler's paint overspray is converted to a non-hazardous powder. It is in turn being used as a filler for pavement cracks by a local chemical company and as underbody paint on Dodge trucks.

"This is a real environmental breakthrough," said Yogen Rahangdale, manager of Chrysler's paint and anti-corrosion operations. "We've discovered a way to ease the burden on area landfills and found a useful home for what was once an unwanted byproduct."

Paint sludge is the byproduct of painting vehicles. In most auto plants, up to 40 percent of the paint ends up as waste, which is hauled to landfills for disposal.

Haden's system, the first of its kind in the world and in use at the Dodge City complex since late 1988, dries the paint sludge to reduce its mass and weight about 90 percent.