When we think about plastic waste, we mostly envision it polluting our planet’s oceans, or taking up valuable space in landfill sites. However, car manufacturer, Ford, has been repurposing recycled plastic to manufacture vehicle parts since the 1990s.
Ford plays a big role in the promotion of environmentally-friendly car parts. One of the ways in which Ford has been doing this is by utilising recycled plastic bottles for the manufacture of underbody shields on all their SUVs and other vehicles.
Plastic bottles turned into vehicle underbody shields
“The underbody shield is a very big part, and for a part that large, should we use solid plastic it would probably weigh three times as much,” says Ford Motor Company design engineer Thomas Sweder.
“We try to find the best materials to make our parts from, and in this instance, many environmental benefits are also created,” Sweder adds. The Ford Motor Company makes use of about 1.2 billion recycled plastic bottles annually. This equates to approximately 300 bottles per vehicle.
How recycled plastic become vehicle parts
Plastic bottles that were placed in recycling bins are collected with thousands of others. They are then shredded into tiny pieces and this material is usually sold to suppliers, who turn it into a fibre. This is achieved by melting the plastic pieces and then extruding it.
The fibres are then mixed with various different types of filament in a textile process to create a sheet of material. This sheet is then used to create the car parts. As it is so lightweight, recycled plastic is ideal for manufacturing engine shields, underbody shields and front and rear wheel arch liners. These wheel arch liners can help improve vehicle aerodynamics, which in turn improves fuel efficiency.
Using recycled plastic makes technical and economic sense
Sweder said that Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using materials such as this and that they do it because it makes technical and economic sense, as much as it makes sense for the environment. “This material is very well suited for the parts we’re making with it, and it is extremely functional,” he explains.
“We encourage South Africans to reduce, reuse and recycle materials in order to create an environment that is sustainable and user-friendly for generations to come,” says the vice president of operations for Ford Motor Company South Africa, Ockert Berry.
In South Africa, Ford has implemented comprehensive recycling programs at its local plants in collaboration with its suppliers. These recycling programs have resulted in significant reductions in the amount of waste that ends up in our country’s landfills.
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