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Ford will cut down plastic use by recycling McDonald's coffee into car parts

McDonalds sells a lot of coffee. Over a billion cups a year, to be exact. All that coffee leads to a lot of productive mornings, but it also leads to a lot of waste. Each year, millions of pounds of coffee chaff (the skin of the coffee beans that comes off during roasting) ends up getting turned into mulch. Some coffee chaff just gets burned, leading to an increase in CO2.

Now, that chaff is going to get turned into car parts. Ford is incorporating coffee chaff from McDonalds coffee into the headlamps of some cars. Ford has been using plastic and talc to make its headlamps, but this new process will reduce the reliance on talc, a non-renewable mineral. The chaff is heated to high temperatures under low oxygen and mixed with plastic and other additives. The bioplastic can then be formed into shapes.


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Debbie Miewelski, senior technical leader of materials sustainability for Ford, describes it as a "win-win-win-win-win-win." The process reduces food waste, turning it into a useful, greener product. The parts are 20% lighter than the old headlamps, yet they're stronger. They also require 25% less energy during the heating and molding process.

"[Chaff] would be compostable, but in this case, we're making a high-end composite with it," Miewelski told Fast Company. "You're making a higher-end material rather than putting it back into the ground, or worst-case, creating CO2 by burning it."

The Ford x McDonald's coffee waste headlamps are an example of the circular economy. Miewelski wants to see more companies repurpose the waste from other companies in this sustainable way. "My hope is that many parts on vehicles, and many home goods, can utilize some of these materials. I'm convinced that it can happen," Miewelski told Fast Company. "We need to get people in the mindset, this is not waste, these are valuable products . . . the whole circular economy is something we should have been working on for the last 30 or 50 years, but now we have to catch up.

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This bioplastic will be first used in the Lincoln Continental sedan in 2020. Ford hopes to use the material in more cars and more parts. The company has a goal to use only recycled and renewable plastics in its cars. The transportation sector is currently responsible for over 25% of all carbon emissions, so the greener we can make our vehicles, the better.

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