Over the past few decades, human activities have increased global carbon dioxide levels to staggering heights. It’s rapidly taking a toll on our planet, and the car company Ford wants to help combat the issue. Last year, Ford teamed up with the fast-food giant McDonald’s to make car parts, like plastic headlamps, more sustainable.
According to Vox, nearly 500 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. It’s one of the most popular goods in the world and McDonald’s serves a significant portion of those cups.
McDonald’s alone produces over 62 million pounds of coffee chaff every year that goes straight to landfills. Coffee chaff is the unused dry skin that comes off during the roasting process, says Business Insider. Ford is now saving that chaff to use in its headlamps.
However, this partnership is not new. Ford’s research team already works with McDonald’s to its make car parts using agave, wheat, tomatoes, and even denim byproducts. Since 2011, the company has even used soy foam to create their vehicles’ insides. However, the Ford research team discovered that the chaff was perfect for parts that needed to withstand high temperatures, like headlights or car battery covers. But why is this so important? Business insider explains that
“…almost 140 million tons of solid waste was sent to US landfills in 2017. And when that waste hits a landfill, it creates a pile of trash that is impossible to take back. And incinerating the waste creates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions that are harmful to the environment. But some materials don’t have to end up in landfills, like coffee chaff.”
So How Exactly Do You Create Car Parts From Coffee Skins?
“The coffee plant takes three to four years to develop and produce berries. Once these berries become ripe and turn bright red, similar to the color of cherries or red grapes, they are often handpicked, washed, and pulped, ultimately revealing the bean. “
Once dried, they are shipped to roasters that remove the skin and send it off to Competitive Green Technologies, a biotech company in Canada that mixes the coffee chaff and plastic. From there, Varroc molds and assembles the headlights through Injection Molding. This process is when the plastic and chaff pellets are combined into a machine and is heated and mixed and shot into a mold for 30–60 seconds. Then, it’s off to Ford’s factories to place onto their cars.
Traditionally, the headlights are made from a mixture of plastic and talc, a mineral that has to be mined and therefore isn’t renewable, says CNN. The chaff now replaces the talc, making the part 20% lighter and uses 25% less energy. It even meets all durability and performance standards and withstands higher temperatures than talc. Ultimately, this combination makes it cheaper for consumers and help the automotive maker create more fuel-efficient cars and reduce greenhouse emissions.
But why use coffee chaff out of all things? OneGreenPlanet claims it’s because coffee chaff is so widely available due to the high demand for coffee, and it’s often wasted away into landfills. Hence, its the perfect renewable material that the company needs. In a Ford press-release, the American motor company choose McDonald’s as a partner, compared to chains like Starbucks, because
McDonald’s commitment to innovation was impressive to us and matched our own forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability. This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and [it’s] an example of jump starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products.
Ford’s renewable mission is still standing strong, despite some issues. The company has already begun installing the headlights on their Lincoln Continental in December 2019, and have plans to expand to other models soon.
Though using coffee byproducts comes with many potential benefits, new research, including an article made by Vox, has come to light that a coffee crisis could be on the horizon. If the climate continues to worsen, millions of coffee farmers could lose their livelihoods and stunt coffee production. Read this article to learn more.
Furthermore, car parts still end up in landfills at the end of a car’s life. Ford and McDonald’s plan to combat the issue by completely substituting standard plastic with recycled plastic by 2035 and expand to using other McDonald’s waste products like potato and orange peels. (Wow, maybe one day, we’ll be driving vehicles made entirely from fast-food waste)! This solution to a growing problem would give trash another life away from the landfill and be the start of protecting our planet’s future.
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