By Samuel Smith
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Plastic bottles on the floor of your BMW? Soy in your Mustang seats? Most proud car owners would cringe at the thought.
But believe it or not, it’s happening right now at some of the world’s biggest automotive manufacturing plants.
Car brands are fast shifting their focus from luxury to liveability, swapping leather and mahogany for recycled clothes and eucalyptus.
And it’s far from a distant dream. You’d be surprised how many models already on our roads feature sustainable materials.
From denim to fishing nets, we take a look at some eco-friendly automotive alternatives.
1. Soy fibres
Most of us are familiar with soy: millions of people eat and drink it daily. But did you know it’s been used in Ford Mustang seats for over 10 years?
In fact, Ford claims that every vehicle built in its North American plants since 2011 has used recycled soy in its seat cushions, seat backs and headrests.
According to the North Carolina State University, over its lifetime, Ford’s soy foam has prevented more than 228 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
2. Plastic bottles
Ever wondered where the contents of your office recycling bin ends up?
If you worked at General Motors back in 2016, the answer could’ve been… as noise-reducing fabric insulation for the Chevrolet Equinox.
As part of GM’s Do Your Part project, empty employee water bottles were collected from 5 Michigan plants and turned into automotive insulation.
They were also transformed into air filtration components and coats for the homeless.
GM aren’t the only car company to substitute traditional materials for plastic. Yarn spun from plastic bottles has featured in the BMW i3 for years; now BMW uses 100% regenerated nylon fibre known as ECONYL® in the seats and floor mats of its i-series models.
3. Recycled clothing
In March this year, the Nissan Leaf broke the world record for most sales of an electric car, surpassing 400,000 units sold worldwide.
The 2019 Nissan Leaf is 100% electric, with zero emissions. It also happens to have a passion for fashion, using repurposed clothes as sound insulation and repurposed electrical appliances in its interior plastics.
4. Discarded nets and ropes
Over in Sweden, Volvo built a special edition of its popular XC60 4WD using plastics from discarded nets and maritime ropes.
The concept car was revealed at the 2018 Gothenburg Ocean Summit and featured an interior made largely from recycled materials.
The Volvo’s seats were made using PET fibres from plastic bottles, its centre console incorporated discarded fishing nets and its carpets contained a recycled cotton mix from clothing off-cuts.
The special XC60 was designed to prove that recycled materials can be just as functional, strong and visually appealing as their traditional counterparts.
Proof that sustainable materials can be luxurious too, BMW’s latest i3 features stunning eucalyptus trim and interior panelling.
As well as being ridiculously good-looking, Eucalyptus is hardy and naturally resistant to moisture, which – according to BMW – means it needs 90% less finishing and treatment compared to traditional types of wood. It also happens to be one of the world’s fastest-growing tree species.
BMW produces its bamboo trim without chemicals, and all wood used in the i3 is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Turns out koalas are onto a good thing.