Car Makers Recycle for New Vehicle Parts

There’s a lot more to green auto making than hybrid and electric motor technology. Automakers are also looking to recyclable materials for use in the production of new car parts. Recycled materials are becoming popular in the production of vehicle interiors, upholstery and moldings as automakers look for more sustainable, environmentally friendly methods and materials.

In the quest to build sustainable vehicles, automakers are partnering with suppliers to develop bio-based products for use instead of traditional manmade plastics. Among the recycled materials being used are denim jeans and plastic bottles.

Although the automakers’ main purpose is creating environmentally friendly alternatives for use in auto production, sometimes they realize substantial savings by using the greener products for their moldings, fibers and plastics. Other times the process of finding green substitutes that perform just as well as the old materials is a bit difficult. They say it’s worth the trouble to attract environmentally conscious consumers.

Lora Herron of General Motors Company heads up their green materials efforts. She says, “If we have two parts—one is recycled, the other one is virgin—and they perform and cost the same, why wouldn’t you used the recycled one?”

The Association of Post-consumer Plastics Recyclers reports that ten years ago the percentage of high-density polyethylene (such as milk cartons and laundry detergent bottles) used in the production of auto parts was “negligible.” Last year, 9 percent of these recycled materials were used for making auto parts.

General Motors’ material engineers are using recycled carpet to make door handle brackets. Shredded denim is being used in linings and crevices to reduce noise. The 2010 Buick LaCrosse has acoustic ceiling panels made from old cardboard from the company’s Marion Stamping Plant. GM is also using kenaf, which is a plant similar to bamboo, for ceiling supports and to improve the acoustics of some models.

About 5 percent to 10 percent of all plastics used in GM vehicles are created from recycled materials, says Herron.

Chrysler Group LLC uses yarn scraps from carpet mills to make plastic for an engine part in some of its vehicles. Ford Motor co. is using recycled detergent bottles, tires and battery casings to create parts used for shields and fender liners.

Recycled plastic soda bottles and yarn are also used to make the suede-like seat fabrics in the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO and Lincoln MKZ. Ford says these recycling efforts have saved them $4 to $5 million and have kept 25 to 30 million pounds of plastics out of landfills.

Ford is also currently developing bio-plastics from plant sugars like those produced by switch grass and corn.

Ford’s head sustainability design Carol Korditch says, “We said, hey, we have to do a little better than great gas mileage, so we started looking into the interior.”

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