The Ford Bronco Sport is using recycled plastic from the ocean to make these auto parts

Who knew wiring harness clips could be seen as a super cool little car part.

But here we are.

Ford Motor Company is doing its part to clean up ocean pollution by becoming the first automaker to use 100% recycled ocean plastic for auto parts, the company announced Wednesday.

And “the Bronco Sport is the first vehicle ever to do it,” Ford said in a news release. “Invisible to the vehicle occupants, the Bronco Sport’s wiring harness clips, which weigh about 5 grams, fasten to the sides of the second-row seats and guide wires that power side-curtain airbags.”

The Ford Bronco Sport is using recycled plastic from the ocean to make these auto parts

So there you go.

The subcompact SUV, the latest addition to the iconic Bronco family that began delivery in late 2020, is breaking new ground.

Ford has used recycled plastics not pulled from oceans to produce auto parts for more than two decades, the company said.

But this is new and different. This car part uses plastic debris categorized as “ghost gear,” or plastic that has been discarded, lost or abandoned, fishing gear in the marine environment, said Dr, Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s Technical Fellow for Sustainability.

“Ford researchers discovered, despite the ocean plastic-based material spending time in saltwater and sunlight, it is as strong and durable as petroleum-based clips,” Ford said in its release.

Introducing car parts made of recycled ocean plastic builds on global efforts to help protect sea creatures and reduce landfill waste, the Dearborn automaker said.

But this is a whole new approach, Ford said.

How it’s done

The process for using recycled ocean plastic works like this:

  • The plastic debris is collected from the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea by DSM Engineering Materials based in Troy.
  • The plastic is washed of saltwater, dried and shaped into small pellets, which are then injection-molded by Wisconsin-based supplier HellermannTyton into the desired clip shape.
  • The clips are assembled in the U.S. and sent to Ford Mexico for final production.

In addition, the project supports metro Detroit jobs, since DSM is local and HerllermannTyton has offices in the Motor City.

The Ford Bronco Sport is using recycled plastic from the ocean to make these auto parts

Ford is planning to expand its use of recycled ocean plastics to include transmission brackets, wire shields and floor side rails on the Bronco Sport and vehicles, “all stationary parts with strength and durability demands that the material can meet or exceed and better overall sustainability,” the company said.

Bronco Sport currently reuses non-ocean plastic in carpets and seating as well as in underbody, under-hood and engine components, Mielewski said.

Bill Ford’s vision

The automaker is led by executive chair Bill Ford, who has been especially outspoken in recent years on sustainable manufacturing policy when it comes to environmental impact. Ford CEO Jim Farley has also advocated better sustainability practices.

“Ford is so dedicated to going green that the company has a goal to only use 100% sustainable materials in its vehicles,” Ford said in its release.

Already Ford is reusing:

  • aluminum scrap from its stamping plants
  • post-consumer carpet and tires
  • agave fiber from the tequila-making process
  • U.S. currency taken out of circulation
  • and through a partnership with McDonald’s USA: coffee chaff — the dried skin of the bean in partnership with McDonald’s — is used for reinforcing headlamp housings.

‘Hot topic’

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at car shopping site, said any carmaker that shows dedication to sustainability is going to generate positive buzz.

“It’s such a hot topic,” she said, noting the endless images of ocean plastics shown when wildlife has been tangled — and is rescued.

“The public wants to see more of this from large companies that produce massive quantities of products,” Caldwell said. “This helps separate Ford … as part of their larger strategy in their commitment to the future.”

Ford confirmed it began installing the new part in the 2021 Bronco Sport, which has a base price of about $27,000.

Fishing nets

Automakers, including General Motors and Volkswagen Group, are looking at various ways to reduce waste and pollution. The Spanish brand Cupra, which just launched its Born EV, is “making seats from plastic recovered from the Mediterranean Sea by fishermen and from its beaches by volunteers,” said in October.

The Ford Bronco Sport is using recycled plastic from the ocean to make these auto parts

Greenpeace told the Free Press that the nonprofit organization is focused on cutting single-use plastic and wasteful plastic packaging.

“We cannot simply recycle our way out of the plastic pollution crisis, and that includes through the use of ocean plastics,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar, acknowledging an overall industry trend toward recycling.

“Auto companies can also urge partners in the consumer goods sector to shift toward systems of reuse and package-free options immediately,” he said during the peak holiday shopping season.

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard:313-618-1034 her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.

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