Could fishing nets and coffee grinds form the materials for your next car?

Elle Kiai

18 Mar 2023

What are the desirable features you look for in a new car? Perhaps leather seats or the latest infotainment? What about old fishing nets or even the coffee grinds from your morning brew?

These might not seem like must-haves, but as car makers look to make their vehicles and manufacturing process more sustainable, recycled materials such as these will play a crucial part. 

This is welcome - and also not surprising - given that road vehicles, including cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes, account for nearly three quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transport.

From door panels made of cardboard to classic cars being retrofitted with parts from Teslas, the industry is finding innovative ways to drive down the overall carbon footprint of its vehicles rather than focussing on local emissions from the tailpipe.

So what exactly are the most interesting things that are recycled in cars? On Global Recycling Day 2023, we’re taking a look:

Never let anyone dull your Starkle

Although they’ve no plans to fully electrify their models any time soon, Dacia is still making waves when it comes to the sustainability of their cars. Unveiled in Autumn 2022, the body of Dacia’s Manifesto concept is partially constructed with their new ‘Starkle’ plastic, which is made up of 20% recycled plastic and is itself 100% recyclable. It will feature on all upcoming Dacia models, starting with the new Duster.

Back of the (fishing) net

From 2025 onwards, BMW will start making certain car parts by using plastic with raw material containing around 30 percent recycled fishing nets and ropes. BMW plans to use plastic waste from the maritime industry as a raw material for vehicle components in order to conserve valuable resources, reduce CO2 emissions and counteract ocean pollution.

Examples include a material known as ECONYL, which is made of recycled fishing nets, being used to form the basis for a synthetic yarn from which the floor mats in the BMW iX can be made. 

CARdboard parts

If you’re not new around here, you’ll know that we’ve long been hailing the Citroen Oli, which stands out for its groundbreaking use of recycled materials and its fresh, creative design. Many manufacturers talk about sustainability, but Citroen is putting it at the heart of what it does with the Oli concept car. Its flat bonnet, roof and rear load bed panels are made from recycled corrugated cardboard formed into a honeycomb sandwich structure between fibreglass reinforcing panels. To stop them dissolving in the rain, they are covered in polyurethane resin and a special paint which is often used on loading ramps.

The seats also use 80% less parts than a traditional seat and are made of recycled materials and ‘mesh’ backrest designs enhance the natural light inside the vehicle. 

Wake up and smell the coffee (grinds)

Did you ever think that your morning coffee could be a part of your future car’s interior?  According to a new study by design and engineering consultancy CALLUM, coffee pulp could replace traditional plastics for glossy, decorative trim such as dashboard inserts by 2030.

And that’s not all. The experts at CALLUM think out-of-date rice or stale lentils could be turned into a smooth translucent material, ideal for illuminated areas of the car such as lamp covers or illuminated switches.

When old meets new

And finally there’s batteries. Battery recycling is critical for maximising the circular economy and reducing life-cycle emissions in the automotive sector, and its importance is only expected to grow as we move away from internal combustion engines.

The trailblazers at Tesla have significantly increased its battery recycling capacity over recent years, which it sees as key to making electric cars sustainable in the long term. Not only this, there’s also been a surge in auto engineers rebuilding classic cars with electric powertrains, with companies like Lunaz pioneering in this space. 

Made famous by Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz who were seen cruising around in an electric Jaguar XK120 just after their wedding this summer, replacing the engine with an electric powertrain is seen as a way of future-proofing and sustaining some of the world’s’ most prestigious classic cars.

BMW has also found a way to create a sustainable second-life solution for its car batteries, by supplying energy storage company Off Grid Energy with battery modules for them to adapt to create mobile power units. This could give retired BMW and MINI EV batteries a useful second-life by helping to power events such as festivals in the future. 

And Nissan has co-founded 4R Energy Corp to develop the tech to recycle, resell and reuse electric car batteries to power other things, such as emergency power supplies. 4R Energy argues that most electric cars are still expensive to produce and buy and that getting a separate value for a car’s battery at the end of its life can only be a good thing.

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