With millions sold every year, the problem of recycling plastic bottles is a constant challenge, but Ford thinks it might have one answer.
For its next Ford Escape, the company plans to recycle 25 20-ounce plastic bottles in the carpeting of each vehicle. Based on 180,000 sales (year to date), this should represent the removal of more than four million plastic bottles from landfills around the country.
It’s the first time Ford has used this type of carpeting in an SUV. “This is a good use of recycled product and keeps it out of landfills,” said Laura Sinclair, a materials engineer for Ford.
However, all materials have to pass durability tests before being used in vehicle manufacture. Therefore, Sinclair and her team conduct exhaustive tests to look for “chalking” – where regular carpet fibers degrade and form a white residue as they break. This is the precursor to a hole forming in the carpet, so testing is done on a device called a Taber 5150, which looks similar to a record player. A carpet sample about the size of a DVD is placed in the middle and spins while two weights rub the sample to simulate wear.
“We run the tests almost daily and can simulate five years or more of service in 10 to 15 minutes,” Sinclair said.
Part of the recipe to improve the carpets involved adding more plastic bottles to the mix. “The polyester fibers created from bottles make up a nonwoven carpet material,” Sinclair said. “If you have more fibers running on each other – rather than what’s underneath, that helps reduce wear.” Adding more recycled bottles can help the carpet last longer.
Also helping to mitigate wear is that the carpeting for the new Escape will be backed with cast foam. Cast foam helps reduce road noise and fills ridges and crevices for a smoother backing.
The carpet is supplied by Autoneum, and is produced at its plant in Bloomsburg, PA.
The all-new Ford Escape, complete with recycled bottle carpets, will make its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on November 16.