Ford Motor Expands Use of Recycled-Content Material

Company says it is first automaker globally to use seat fabric made from recycled material.

June 5, 2013
Recycling Today Staff

Ford Motor Co. has announced that its Ford Fusion is the first global vehicle from any automaker to use seat fabric made from recycled material. The company estimates the recycling program collects enough material to make 1.5 million yards of fabric per year.

In a news release, Ford says that it has increased its use of recycled yarns from zero in 2007 to close to 66 percent of vehicle models for 2013. The company adds that overall, it uses 41 fabrics across 15 vehicle lines globally.

“The fabric being used in Fusion truly illustrates Ford’s commitment to sustainability, regardless of any geographical borders,” says Robert Brown, vice president, sustainability, environment and safety engineering. “Anytime we can connect our supply and suppliers with sustainability, we’re headed in the right direction on our commitment to help better the world.”

Ford’s use of recycled-content fabrics is growing, says Carol Kordich, Ford lead designer of sustainable materials. She says the idea is to one day have all Ford fabrics consist of recycled material.

Since the 2009 model year, Ford says any new seat fabric used in Ford vehicles must contain at least 25 percent recycled material.

As new ideas and technologies emerge, processes evolve and volumes increase with other automakers following Ford’s lead, the costs of developing sustainable fabrics will likely drop, Kordich says. When that happens, Ford will likely consider requiring an even higher percentage of recycled material content in its fabric, she adds.

“Ford is definitely a leader and the only one in the automotive market to put a marker out there that we need to hit,” says Dan Russian, business manager at Sage Automotive Interiors, Ford’s largest fabric supplier in North America. “It was exciting to see Ford take a leadership position in the use of sustainable materials, which supported the efforts of our design and development teams.”

Russian says the Ford-driven changes had a hand in speeding up the supplier’s development plans to increase offerings containing recycled content – potentially making more fabrics derived from recycled material available to the entire automotive industry up to five years earlier than originally planned.

Ford’s 2008 Escape Hybrid was the first model to feature an entire seat made of fabric containing recycled yarn. “Initially suppliers didn’t think we were serious when we told them in the late 2000s that our new corporate strategy required a minimum of 25 percent recycled content,” says Kordich. “But more and more suppliers started to increase their environmental R&D efforts.”

One of the suppliers, North Carolina-based Unifi, has developed a yarn branded REPREVE made from post-industrial and post-consumer waste, such as clear, plastic water bottles. Prior to working with Ford, REPREVE had been primarily used in the apparel and contract market segments.

“From my previous background I knew companies like Unifi and Sage were innovating products to further push the envelope in sustainable developments,” says Kordich. “Collaborating with companies that have the same mindset as Ford helped take us to the next level much faster.”

Kordich worked with Unifi and Sage on a plan: Unifi would provide REPREVE to Sage, which would use the yarn to make seat fabric and sell any waste (trimmings, bad dye lots, etc.) back to Unifi for reprocessing. Ford also would help collect clear, plastic water bottles and send them back to the REPREVE Recycling Center. Ford is in the midst of a campaign to help collect and send 2 million plastic bottles to Unifi. Each Fusion contains the equivalent of up to about 40 clear, plastic bottles.

While the amount of recycled material in each vehicle varies depending on region, in North America, 100 percent of the seat fabric in Fusion Hybrid models contains recycled material. Where available, Mondeo in Ford’s Asia Pacific and European regions has 43 percent recycled content.

“We are off to a good start,” Kordich says.” But it’s only the beginning of our corporate vision.”