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Brief Published: 9 Dec 2019

Ford & McDonald's Transform Coffee Waste into Car Parts

Coffee chaff transformed into composite material for car parts

In a new sustainability-focused partnership, Ford will transform McDonald’s coffee-roasting waste into a material for some of its interior and exterior auto parts. As well as being a more eco-friendly material choice, the coffee composite produces lighter components that are more energy efficient to manufacture.

The coffee waste – known as chaff – is the dried husk which comes off a coffee bean during roasting. McDonald’s currently generates over 28,000 tonnes of chaff a year in North America alone (Engadget, 2019). 

The companies have found that this waste stream can be converted into a durable material through a process of heating at high temperature under low oxygen. It’s then combined with plastic and other additives before being turned into pellets that can be moulded into different forms. The new composite can then be used to reinforce vehicle parts, such as headlight housing.

Sustainability is beginning to be widely recognised as a key concern within the automotive industry. Innovation was on the agenda at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, with many manufacturers exploring recycled materials in both concept and production vehicles. 

Ford already champions the use of sustainable, recycled and renewable materials in its vehicles, with coffee chaff the latest in its repertoire. The automaker’s material palette includes post-consumer rubber, closed-loop recycled aluminium, and carpets made from plastic bottles. It is also exploring applications for agave fibre, bamboo, algae and dandelion roots.

To align with global concern, brands need to scrutinise and re-evaluate their resources and manufacturing processes. This union between big brands highlights the benefits of collaboration and sharing in order to achieve impactful and shrewd circular practices – a theme we explore further in The Wealth in Waste.

It also reinforces the value in waste streams as material resources. See Edible Airline Tableware and The Wealth in Waste for other uses of coffee waste.