Plastics are such important materials for daily life. We can find them anywhere we look; they have multiple uses in all aspects of society, from the home and work to medicine and construction. Plastics can even be found in the automotive industry. Did you know that Ford uses recycled plastics on its vehicles?
The global vehicle manufacturer recycles over 1-billion plastic bottles every year and turns them into vehicle parts, such as underbody shields and wheel arch liners. “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 Ford design engineer Thomas Sweder.
Ford first started using recycled plastics in the 1990s, however, over the last two decades, the need and uses for plastic vehicle components have grown exponentially. This means that the amount of raw plastic required by vehicle manufacturers has risen dramatically. By using recycled plastics, Ford is helping to establish a circular economy and adding to the environmental and economic benefits of the recycling industry.
How plastic bottles are turned into vehicle parts
It takes around 300 plastic bottles to manufacture all the plastic components for a single vehicle. Plastic bottles are collected from recycling bins and processed at local recycling facilities. The recyclate is then sold to suppliers who extrude it and turn it into a fibre.
These fibres are woven together with other materials in a textile process to make a sheet of lightweight plastic material, which is then used to make the automotive parts. “We look for the best materials to work with to make our parts and, in this case, we are also creating many environmental benefits,” explains Sweder.
Plastics help to improve vehicle performance
Due to its lightweight characteristics and durability, recycled plastic is the ideal material for non-cosmetic components such as underbody shields and wheel arch liners. These parts help to improve the aerodynamic efficiency and the fuel economy of the vehicles.
“Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using materials such as this, and we do it because it makes sense, technically and economically, as much as it makes sense for the environment. This material is very well suited for the parts we’re making, and is extremely functional,” states Sweder.
In South Africa, Ford has established recycling programmes at its dealerships and manufacturing plants. The company also encourages all of its suppliers to recycle their plastic waste. This helps to minimise the volume of plastics that end up in landfills and also support the local recycling industry.
Plastics SA represents all sectors of the South African plastics industry. Together with our associations, we play an active role in the growth and development of the industry and strive to address plastics related issues, influence role-players and make plastics the material of choice.
Plastics SA has been mandated to ensure a vibrant and sustainable plastics industry in South Africa. The plastics sector is uniquely placed to meet the needs of a sustainable society and to deliver solutions to many challenges such as recycling, climate change, water scarcity, resource usage and energy recovery.