The most exciting eco-friendly products are the ones that work even better than their more wasteful counterparts ever did—and thanks to an unlikely corporate team-up, we’re seeing those innovations play out on a large scale. CNET reports that Ford and McDonald’s are collaborating to engineer a more sustainable automotive plastic from the fast food chain’s coffee-brewing byproducts, and best of all, this plastic might outperform the purely petroleum-based plastics of yore.
The key to this process involves coffee chaff, or the thin and papery skin shed from the coffee bean during the roasting process. Like onion, garlic, or peanut skins, this chaff flutters around, gets in everything, and is a general nuisance to roasters everywhere. (And McDonald’s produces a lot of coffee.) But when chaff is heated in a low-oxygen environment and mixed with plastic to form small pellets, these pellets form a lightweight, durable, high-heat-resistant material that can be molded into just about anything and takes much less energy to produce than the leading plastics.
The plan is to start using this plastic in headlamps and interior panels, and expand “to a wide variety of additional Ford and Lincoln parts in the coming years,” according to Ford senior technical leader Debbie Mielewski. It’s a great start (and no doubt a load off for McDonald’s roasters), one that finds yet another clever way to tackle the scourge of plastic waste the world over. And as far as coffee innovations go, McDonald’s is better off spending their time on this than brainstorming new latte flavors.