Synthetic plastic has been around well over 100 years now and despite it’s benefits there have been a tremendous number of adverse effects. Today, plastic is everywhere and it’s destroying our habitat. The problem is that it’s not biodegradable, its a product that does not return to Earth and stays with us for thousands of years if not forever. To give you an idea of the scale, according to the site Safe Bottles, there are over 100 million plastic beverage bottles disposed of around the world daily (60 million in the USA alone).
Many producers are taking positive steps in the right direction to course correct the problem of plastic use. This means development and use of bio-plastics, usually a plant-based solution such as hemp-plastic for inside door panels.
Ford Motor company is no stranger to using plant-based materials in place of petroleum based products. Henry Ford, was committed to using agricultural products in cars. He did a lot of work with soybeans, using soy in plastics and enamels, as well as, wheat straw for composite materials. He found value in the idea of utilizing materials that can be grown, renewable resources and using the crops that farmers produce in the vehicles that they want to buy. He had that as a vision for the company.
“Nearly two years ago, Ford began collaborating with Heinz, The Coca-Cola Company, Nike Inc. and Procter & Gamble to accelerate development of a 100 percent plant-based plastic to be used to make everything from fabric to packaging and with a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based packaging materials currently in use.”
Now, researchers at Ford and Heinz are investigating the use of tomato fibers in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. Specifically, dried tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle or the storage bin a Ford customer uses to hold coins and other small objects.
“We are exploring whether this food processing byproduct makes sense for an automotive application,” said Ellen Lee, plastics research technical specialist for Ford. “Our goal is to develop a strong, lightweight material that meets our vehicle requirements, while at the same time reducing our overall environmental impact.”
The idea is to use the bio-plastic in wiring brackets and material for onboard vehicle storage bins. If successful the use of a plant-based bio-plastic would reduce the amount of petrochemical manufacturing, and the amount of petroleum-based plastic in the environment.
Of the American auto manufacturers, Ford has been a leader in the incorporation of sustainability into its production practices.
Using all materials and reducing waste is a common practice in innovation, sometimes called incremental innovation. Using existing materials for a different purpose is a common practice in innovation, sometimes called incremental innovation. In other words, there is a tendency to think of innovation as “breakthroughs” or big changes, but small ones can be valuable too.
“We are delighted that the technology has been validated. Although we are in the very early stages of research, and many questions remain, we are excited about the possibilities this could produce for both Heinz and Ford, and the advancement of sustainable 100% plant-based plastics,” said Vidhu Nagpal, associate director, of packaging R&D for Heinz.