Where do recycled plastic bottles go? Try looking under your car.
Ford Motor Company is using recycled plastic bottles for underbody shields on all cars and SUVs, and for wheel liners on F-Series trucks.
Every minute, people around the world purchase 1 million plastic bottles, which adds up to roughly 526 billion bottles every year. Much of this plastic ends up discarded in landfills, rivers or oceans, often with devastating effects for wildlife. Many people are now trying to cut down on plastic use, while also turning these single-use plastics into something useful — like auto parts.
The Ford Motor Company has used recycled plastic as far back as the 1990s. Today, in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint, the company is transforming recycled plastic into vehicle parts, specifically underbody shields on all cars and SUVs, as well as wheel liners on F-Series trucks.
“The underbody shield is a large part, and for a part that big, if we use solid plastic, it would likely weigh three times as much,” says Thomas Sweder, design engineer with Ford Motor Company. “We look for the most durable and highest-performing materials to work with to make our parts, and in this case, we are also creating many environmental benefits.”
Recycled plastic is ideal for automotive parts due to its light weight, which offers additional benefits such as improving a vehicle's aerodynamics and reducing cabin noise. In fact, the all-new 2020 Ford Escape boasts an exceptionally quiet environment, thanks to plastics.
The use of plastics in vehicle parts has grown exponentially in the past decade, especially in underbody shields. Ford estimates it uses around 1.2 billion recycled plastic bottles every year — that’s about 250 bottles per vehicle on average.
How exactly does your plastic water bottle turn into an aerodynamic auto part? After you toss the bottle into the recycling bin, it's eventually combined with thousands of others and shredded into tiny pieces. These pieces are then sold to a supplier, who turns them into a fiber by melting and extruding them. This fiber is mixed with other elements in a textile process, then used to create a sheet of material that can be formed into vehicle parts.
With one of the largest companies in the United States committed to working with recycled plastics, there’s hope others will follow suit. More than 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans every day, and that number is still increasing. Finding new and innovative ways to recycle and reuse single-use plastics is essential for our planet and its inhabitants.
“Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using recycled materials such as this, and we do it because it makes sense technically and economically as much as it makes sense for the environment,” Sweder says. “This material meets all of our robust specifications for durability and performance.”