- More than 62 million pounds of McDonald‘s coffee chaff go straight to landfills.
- But the company partnered with Ford Motor Company to help minimize their waste to landfills.
- The research team at Ford discovered that coffee chaff, the unused dried skin that comes off the bean during the roasting process, can be used to make car parts.
- This is the process Ford uses to turn coffee-bean skins into sustainable headlights.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Every year, McDonald’s produces more than 62 million pounds of coffee chaff. That’s the unused dried skin that comes off of coffee beans during the roasting process. And that 62 million pounds used to go straight to landfills. But now, Ford is taking that chaff from McDonald’s and turning it into car parts.
Almost 140 million tons of solid waste was sent to US landfills in 2017. And when that waste hits a landfill, it creates a pile of trash that is impossible to take back. And incinerating the waste creates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions that are harmful to the environment. But some materials don’t have to end up in landfills, like coffee chaff.
McDonald’s partnered with Ford’s research team, which was already using agave, wheat, tomatoes, and even denim byproducts to make car parts. The team discovered that chaff could also be used to make car parts, especially ones that need to withstand high temperatures, like headlights and car battery covers.
When the coffee chaff is heated to high temperatures and mixed with plastic and other additives, it turns into a material that can be formed into various shapes. Not only will less waste go to landfills, but using the chaff actually benefits Ford vehicles. Its headlights were made up of plastic and talc, a mineral that has to be mined. But now, the coffee chaff replaces some of the talc, making the car part 20% lighter. Molding the coffee chaff also uses 25% less energy than the previous material combination. The chaff component meets all durability and performance requirements, and it can withstand high temperatures much better than talc.
So, how is Ford turning coffee bean skins into headlights?
It all starts where the coffee beans are grown – South America. The beans are collected and then shipped to the roasters. When the roasters roast the beans, the skin comes off. The coffee chaff is collected and shipped to Competitive Green Technologies, a biotechnology company in Ontario, Canada. This is where the coffee chaff and plastic are mixed.
The mixed material is then shipped to a company called Varroc, which molds and assembles the headlights. The company uses a process called injection molding. Pellets made from plastic and chaff are combined in the machine. The material is heated and mixed, then shot into a mold and placed under pressure that forms the shape of the part. Each headlight takes 30 to 60 seconds to form. The final step is to ship the headlights to Ford, where they get added to the cars.
Ford began installing the headlights in its Lincoln Continental cars in December 2019. Other model cars are expected to follow. But this doesn’t eliminate the environmental problem entirely. At the end of a car’s life, some parts will still end up in landfills since they’re still made out of plastic.
Ford and McDonald’s plan to reduce that waste by substituting traditional plastic with recycled plastic. And Ford hopes to have 100% recycled and sustainable plastic on its vehicles by 2035. The sustainability efforts don’t stop there. Ford is also looking into using other McDonald’s waste products, like orange and potato peels. So who knows… Maybe one day, we’ll be driving cars made completely from fast-food waste.
How Ford makes car parts from used McDonald's coffee beans