The byproducts of coffee production have been the focus of several sustainability initiatives looking to transform the would-be trash (or at best the compost bin) into something utile. Chaff has been used to make coffee cups, the pulp is being harvested for its topical healing abilities, wastewater is being used to generate electricity, and spent coffee grounds have been turned into everything from eyewear to road-building materials. Any of the new uses for the old products could be revolutionary in their ability to give a second life to would-be landfill material. The keyword being “could”. It would require a large scale adoption in order to have a significant impact.
In a press release issued today, December 4th, the two companies announced they will be collaborating to turn coffee chaff into parts “like headlamp housings and other interior and underhood components.” Though the actual amount of coffee McDonald’s purchases is not readily available, in America alone, the company sells half a billion cups of coffee annually, which means a lot of chaff.
Instead of throwing it away, the two companies found that after “heating the chaff to high temperatures under low-oxygen, mixing it with plastic and other additives and turning it into pellets, the material can then be formed into various shapes,” which can then be “used to reinforce vehicle parts.” According to Ford, the chaff creates materials that are 20% lighter, with up to 25% energy savings during the molding.
“Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative solutions to further that goal,” said Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald’s. “Together, by finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we believe McDonald’s and Ford are elevating how companies can work together to increase participation in the circular economy.”
McDonald’s states they will “divert a significant portion” of the chaff produced in North America for their coffee (they do not roast for themselves) to Ford to use to create vehicle parts. For their part, Ford has a goal of “using only recycled and renewable plastics in vehicles globally, using an increasing range of sustainable materials,” of which this latest initiative is a part.
Pretty soon you'll be able to spill your McCafe on your car's upholstery and not worry because it'll be made up of Micky D's coffee anyway. Caramel Macchiato is going to be the hottest new car smell.