McDonald’s and Ford: An unlikely, yet innovative coffee collaboration

In what is perhaps the unlikeliest of unions in the coffee world, McDonald’s Corp and Ford Motor Company are collaborating to convert coffee bean waste into car parts.

Ford is taking the waste from McDonald’s coffee chaff (the dried skin on the bean that naturally comes off during the roasting process) and diverting it from landfill to be engineered into bioplastic car parts, reducing weight, using significantly less petroleum and lowering CO2 emissions.

Ford’s research team and McDonald’s found that chaff can be converted into a durable product that can be used to reinforce vehicle parts. By heating the chaff to high temperatures under low oxygen, mixing it with plastic and other additives and turning it into pellets, the material can then be formed into various shapes.

A video on the production process can be see here:

The chaff composite from McDonald’s meets the quality specifications for parts like headlamp housings and other interior and under hood components, which will help make Ford products about 20 percent lighter and provide up to 25 percent energy savings during the molding of parts. According to Ford, the heat properties of the chaff component are even significantly better than the currently used material.

“As we were looking for companies to collaborate with that match our forward-thinking vision and commitment to sustainability, McDonald’s commitment to innovation was impressive to us,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team, adding, “now is the time to jump start the closed loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that are either side or waste products.”

As a result of this project, McDonald’s is expected to divert a significant portion of its coffee chaff in North America to Ford to be incorporated into vehicle parts.

“Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative solutions to further that goal,” said Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald’s. “Together, by finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we believe McDonald’s and Ford are elevating how companies can work together to increase participation in the circular economy.”

Chicago, Illinois-based McDonald’s has been investing in sustainable initiatives for 25 years but has only recently begun to publicize its efforts. Coffee has been on the fast-food giant’s menu since its founding in 1948 by the McDonald’s brothers, and it sells a remarkable amount of coffee — more than one million cups per day (via its 37,000-plus restaurants in about 120 countries). McDonald’s has committed to sourcing 100 percent sustainable coffee by 2020.

McDonald’s has also announced a commitment to source 100 percent of its guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. In addition, McDonald’s is helping develop a recyclable and/or compostable cup through the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge. Both efforts are part of McDonald’s Scale for Good initiative, a global commitment to use its size and scale to drive meaningful change. (For more information on McDonald’s sustainable initiatives, see Sustainability Brews at McDonald’s, which ran in T&CTJ’s March 2018 issue.)

This new partnership is the next step toward Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford’s goal of using only recycled and renewable plastics in vehicles globally, using an increasing range of sustainable materials. Per the company, Ford already makes around 300 parts from renewable materials, with sustainable materials featured in production vehicles: soy, wheat, rice, agave, castor, tomato, kenaf (hibiscus), tree cellulose, jute coconut, and now coffee.

The coffee chaff composite will be in all Lincoln Continentals first and expanding from there across as many product lines as possible. McDonald’s and Ford plan to continue exploring ways to collaborate and utilize waste as a resource, while furthering the sustainability goals of each company.

If the coffee chaff composite on the Lincoln Continentals is successful and Ford decides to expand its use across more automotive lines, perhaps Ford will need to collaborate with additional coffee companies to source more coffee chaff, thereby further increasing more companies’ in-house sustainable initiatives as well as participation in the circular economy.

  • Vanessa L Facenda, editor Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She may be contacted via [email protected]

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