Landfills and Car Lots: New Vehicles from Old Trash

Think about this for a second: that bottle of water, plastic food container or energy drink can you’re throwing away could very well become part of your next car. Several automakers around the globe are finding new and innovative ways of incorporating recyclable materials into cars sold on showroom floors.


In 2009, the average American threw away approximately three pounds of garbage per day, enough to fill landfills with the equivalent weight of 88 million cars, according to Keep America Beautiful. Thanks to current recycling efforts, 34 percent of that waste is being recovered as recyclable materials with that number set to rise in the coming years. Imagine all of that recovered waste being transformed into a new Mustang or Corvette.

From Landfills to Car Lots

Ford is just one of several automakers leading the way in global sustainability. The company has already started its own use of recycled materials in the 2008 Ford Escape hybrid and now it’s doing the same with the recently introduced, 2013 Fusion. The Fusion will be the first vehicle sold worldwide to use fabric from recycled yarns, Forbes stated.

Thanks to the company’s mandate for its suppliers to use at least 25 percent recycled fabric, Ford may use up to 1.5 million yards of fabric recycled from plastic bottles and post-industrial waste each year.

It’s not just plastic bottles and aluminum cans that the Detroit-based automakers are putting to good use. Ford has teamed up with Wellman Engineering Resins to recycle plastic resins from an unlikely source: old carpets. Thanks to a closely-guarded process, Wellman extracts, cleans and extrudes the resins within old carpets. In turn, Ford uses the resins to build cylinder head covers and other plastic parts for its most popular cars, including the Mustang and F-150. More than 4.1 million pounds of carpet were saved from landfills by Ford using Wellman’s nylon resins.

Staying Lean and Green

Elsewhere, other automakers are doing their part to promote a cleaner and more sustainable environment through product recycling. For instance, French automaker Peugeot is exploring the use of recycled materials in its vehicle lineup with the Onyx supercar concept. Whereas other supercars sport the judicious use of carbon fiber, aluminum alloy and titanium, the Onyx features uncoated copper panels that take on a patina over time. Compressed felt covers the interior’s molded carbon fiber structure and the dashboard is made of several compressed layers of used newspapers bonded together with resin.

On the other end of the spectrum, Toyota’s bringing plenty of attention to its own sustainability efforts with the ME.WE electric concept car. Designed with the help of famed French designer Jean-Marie Massaud, the ME.WE has simplicity in mind. Using recyclable polypropylene body panels, the ME.WE weighs in at a scant 1,653 pounds. Bamboo is also used throughout the interior as a weight-saving and environmentally responsible gesture.

It’s already a given that auto companies work to break down old and otherwise useless vehicles into spare parts to mend current vehicles. But imagine those cars, along with other common recyclable and recoverable materials, being recycled into completely new vehicles at the end of their working lives. Given enough time and continuing advances in recycling technology and techniques, today’s used cars could be recycled into tomorrow’s gleaming new showroom beauties.

Darius Smith, the author of this article, considers himself the ultimate source for automotive news. He has an English degree from Colorado State University, which comes in handy when he blogs about the latest car he is restoring.

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