Food waste gets futuristic: McDonald’s coffee to be used in car parts

A unique partnership between the burger chain and Ford will use chaff from coffee beans to make housing for headlamps.
Photograph courtesy of Ford

The next small SUV you buy might be caffeinated.

Earlier this week, Ford and McDonald’s announced a unique partnership in which the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker will use parts of coffee beans left over during the roasting process to make car parts such as headlamp housing.

The companies said they found the chaff that comes off coffee beans as they are roasted can be converted into a durable material that can be used on car parts.

By heating it to high temperatures and mixing it with plastic and other additives, the chaff can be converted into pellets that can be molded into various shapes. The parts are 20% lighter and require up to 25% less energy. Ford says the “heat properties” of the chaff component are better than materials currently used to make these parts.

McDonald’s plans to direct a significant portion of its leftover coffee chaff in North America to Ford so it can be incorporated into these car parts.

“By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how the companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy,” Ian Olson, senior director of global sustainability for McDonald’s, said in a statement.

Both companies view the agreement as a way to meet their respective sustainability goals. Ford, for instance, plans to use more recycled and renewable plastics in its vehicles worldwide while using more sustainable materials for its cars and trucks.

Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader for its sustainability and emerging materials research team, said the deal with McDonald’s “is an example of jump-starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products.”

McDonald’s has been operating under a strategy to use its “scale for good” as it tries to improve its image among consumers.

The Chicago-based burger giant is working to source all of its packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources and is helping to develop a sustainable or compostable cup.



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