When you discard a plastic bottle, do you ever stop and think about where that plastic ends up? Most would say on the road as litter or discarded in the ocean, however for Ford recycled plastic ends up in its vehicles.

Ford Motor Company is helping to play a major role in promoting environmentally friendly auto parts, and one way it is doing this is by using recycled plastic bottles for underbody shields on all cars and SUVs.

“The underbody shield is a large part, and for a part that big, if we use solid plastic it would likely weigh three times as much,” said Thomas Sweder, design engineer, Ford Motor Company. “We look for the best materials to work with to make our parts, and in this case, we are also creating many environmental benefits.”

Ford’s use of recycled plastics dates back to the 1990s. In the past decade, aerodynamics has driven the need for underbody shields, and the use of plastics in vehicle parts is used globally, and has grown exponentially. Ford uses about 1.2 billion recycled plastic bottles per year – about 300 bottles per vehicle on average.

Here’s how it works: when plastic bottles are thrown into a recycling bin, they are collected with thousands of others, and shredded into small pieces. That’s typically sold to suppliers who turn it into a fibre, by melting the bottle and extruding it. Those fibres are mixed together with other various types of fibre in a textile process, and used to make a sheet of material – which is then used to make the automotive parts.

Due to its light weight, recycled plastic is ideal for the manufacture of underbody shields, engine under shield, and front and rear wheel arch liners that can help improve vehicle aerodynamics, which impacts fuel efficiency.

Environmentally, using recycled plastics on vehicle parts helps reduce the amount of plastic that can end up in dangerous situations, such as the Pacific gyre, for example – a floating mass of plastic bigger than the size of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean.

“Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using materials such as this, and we do it because it makes sense technically and economically as much as it makes sense for the environment,” Sweder said. “This material is very well suited for the parts we’re making with it, and is extremely functional.”

In South Africa, Ford has implemented comprehensive recycling programs at its local plants together with its suppliers, which have resulted in significant reductions in the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Ford’ supplier, First National Battery, uses recycled led salvaged from scrapped batteries, on three components of the battery. This includes the Grid, Strap and the Internal Post. While in the Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth, over 97 percent of waste is recycled, with the most successful projects being the recycling of hazardous waste solids, cast iron swarf from component machining, as well as used oils, plastic and cardboard packaging.

‘We encourage South Africans to reduce, reuse and recycle materials in order to create an environment that is sustainable and user-friendly for generations to come,” Ockert Berry, Vice President of Operations for Ford Motor Company South Africa.