Consumer products made from recycled ocean plastics include everything from sunglasses and T-shirts to running shoes and yarn. Now, Ford is adding to its legacy as a leader in sustainability and is the first automaker to use 100% recycled ocean plastics to produce automotive parts.
Wiring harness clips in Ford Bronco™ Sport models are made of ocean-harvested plastic – commonly referred to as “ghost gear.” The strength and durability of the nylon material equals that of previously used petroleum-based parts but with a 10 % cost savings and requiring less energy to produce. The small parts represent a large first step in the company’s plans to produce other parts of recycled ocean plastics on other models.
“This is another example of Ford leading the charge on sustainability,” said Jim Buczkowski, vice president of research and Henry Ford technical fellow. “It is a strong example of circular economy, and while these clips are small, they are an important first step in our explorations to use recycled ocean plastics for additional parts in the future.”
Up to 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, threatening marine life and polluting shorelines, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, a global nongovernmental organization. Much of that is attributed to the fishing industry, which has come to rely on plastic fishing nets and other equipment because of the durability, light weight, buoyancy and low cost of the material. Those same qualities contribute to creating ghost nets, a fatal and growing threat to marine life. Ghost gear comprises nearly 10% of all sea-based plastic waste, entangling fish, sharks, dolphins, seals, sea turtles and birds.
Invisible to vehicle occupants, the Bronco Sport’s wiring harness clips, which weigh about five grams, fasten to the sides of the Bronco Sport second-row seats and guide wires that power side-curtain airbags. Despite spending time in saltwater and sunlight, the material is as strong and durable as petroleum-based clips, Ford testing shows.
Spurring jobs creation throughout the development process, the plastic material is collected from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea by DSM Engineering Materials. Items produced using plastics collected from the oceans include a wide range of consumer goods, but not until now have automotive parts been on that list.
The process begins with DSM harvesting discarded nylon fishing nets. The plastic is washed of saltwater, dried, and extruded to form small pellets, which are then injection-molded by supplier HellermannTyton into the desired clip shape. Ford is already planning additional parts using recycled ocean plastics, including transmission brackets, wire shields and floor side rails – all stationary parts with strength and durability demands that the material can meet or exceed.
“As a global leader in cable management innovation, HellermannTyton strives for eco-friendly ways to pave the path to a more sustainable future,” said Anisia Peterman, HellermannTyton’s automotive product manager. “Developments like this do not come easy, so we are proud to collaborate with Ford in support of a unique product solution that contributes to healthier oceans.”
The Ford legacy of using recycled plastic
For more than two decades, Ford has used recycled plastics not collected from oceans to produce various parts for automobiles. Most recently, the automaker used recycled water bottles to produce lightweight, aerodynamic-enhancing, noise-reducing underbody shields on the 2020 Ford Escape.
The introduction of parts made of recycled ocean plastic opens new opportunities and builds on a global effort to help reduce ocean debris that hampers sea life or, when harvested, further clutters landfills.