In an age of greater awareness of the relationship between conspicuous consumption and climate change, sustainability is now more of a core concern for corporations and people (which I guess are the same thing to the Supreme Court) than ever. That’s led businesses with sizable carbon footprints to explore how they can reuse some of the spent or unused materials they’d otherwise throw away.
Even with that in mind, it’s hard to say that anyone could have predicted a recently-announced example of synergistic sustainability between Ford and McDonald’s. According to CNBC, the two massive, multinational companies have reached an understanding that will allow the automaker to use “a significant portion” of McDonald’s coffee waste to create more sustainable car parts.
Ford will make use of coffee chaff, a term for the outer husk of the coffee bean that separates during roasting that’s sometimes used to make garden mulch or charcoal. They’ll task a company called Competitive Green Technologies with processing the chaff by heating it alongside plastic and other additives to mold it into various shapes.
Watch: Why Does Coffee Make You Poop?
The end result is a lightweight, composite material which Ford will use to make car components. By the end of the year, the chaff composite will form part of the housing for headlights on the Lincoln Contiental, but it sounds like there are other opportunities to integrate the composite for interior car parts and under the hood as well.
In addition to creating a new avenue for McDonald’s to upcycle the waste generated from the many hundreds of millions of cups of coffee it serves annually, coffee chaff could make both manufacturing and driving Ford’s cars more sustainable. The company claims that using the chaff composite can shave 25% off of the energy they’d normally use to mold car parts. In turn, the parts are 20% lighter, which could tangibly improve fuel efficiency once the use of coffee chaff composite is scaled up to manufacture larger car parts. Given that it currently takes chaff from 300,000 coffee beans to make one headlight casing, however, that may take some time.
It’s easy (and not totally incorrect) to see this as a cynical, corporate win-win: McDonald’s finds a way to potentially monetize its waste, while Ford, which produces millions of fossil fuel-burning cars each year, scores some easy PR as a “green” company. Still, our dying planet is probably marginally better off when coffee waste ends up in a car that was going to be built anyway rather than a landfill.