Turning waste into car parts.
Typically, the biggest problem when ordering coffee to go at the counter or drive-thru is the plastic. The artificial material is great to have to cover your hot Cup of Joe, but it's terrible for the environment once tossed into the garbage. The paper cup, meanwhile, is fully recyclable. While plastic remains an issue, another element of the coffee can also be recycled: the spent coffee beans.
Ford and McDonald's have teamed up to do something about the millions of pounds of what's called coffee chaff, the dried skin of the bean that naturally comes off during the roasting process. The two discovered there's a way to convert that chaff into a durable material capable of reinforcing certain vehicle parts.
It works like this: the chaff has to be heated to high temperatures under low oxygen and then mix it with plastic and other additives, which turns it into pellets. The pellets can then be formed into various shapes. Examples include headlamps housings, such as those on the Mustang pictured here, and other interior and under the hood components, all of which meet quality specifications. These coffee bean-sourced parts are about 20 percent lighter and require up to 25 percent less energy during the molding process, according to Ford.
In fact, Ford claims the heat properties of the chaff component are even better than the currently used, though unnamed, material. In case you're wondering, this is the first time Ford has used coffee bean skins to create parts. Beginning in the near future, McDonald's claims it will transfer a "significant portion" of its coffee chaff in North America to Ford for new parts.
"Like McDonald's, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we're always looking for innovative ways to further that goal," said Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald's. "By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy."
This new initiative also involves two other key players: Varroc Lighting Systems, which builds the headlamps, and Competitive Green Technologies, who processes the coffee chaff. Ford is aiming to utilize recycled and renewable plastics at a global level, while McDonald's wants to source 100 percent of its guest packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources by 2025. Both companies are continuing to find ways they can keep working together for more sustainable solutions.