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You Say Tomato, I Say…Construction Material?

You Say Tomato, I Say…Construction Material?

This one’s ripe for a joke: Ford took tomatoes, and turned them into a car. Yes, you read that right. The auto company wasn’t even using fruit enraged customers had thrown at its CEO — instead, it worked with Heinz, which was looking for a use for the byproduct it generates in the process of making foods like ketchup. Before you go tossing lemon jokes around, though, Ford’s initiative is interesting, creating an eco-friendly solution to a serious problem.

The food industry generates a massive volume of waste material annually, with perfectly usable organic material being thrown out or composted when it could be turned to more productive uses. This is expensive for manufacturers, and it’s also a loss to consumers, who have to shoulder the processing and waste costs (manufacturers pay for what they buy, not what they use). In this pilot project, Ford is exploring the possibility of using tomato skins and fibers to make a form of bioplastic that could be used to make plastic car components such as cup holders.

This would allow the company to stop using petroleum-based plastics for this purpose, while still building cars with durable, lightweight plastics. Durability is important, and the lighter the plastic, the lighter the car, and the less fuel it uses. Plastics are easier to clean and maintain than other materials, making them a great choice for vehicles, which tend to see a great deal of hard use. Bioplastics provide the convenience desired by automakers and many consumers, without having to rely on petroleum, and they also represent a fantastic way to use waste products, adding value to the production process.

By making every stage of the process valuable and creating an incentive to save waste material, Ford and other companies coming up with solutions like this are helping consumers and manufacturers out, and they’re also helping the environment. Instead of using up virgin materials, they’re turning to used materials — and, better yet, to waste materials that would just get tossed if someone hadn’t developed a use for them.

This doesn’t, of course, let companies off the hook for their other environmental offenses. Ford, along with other automakers, has opposed better fuel efficiency standards, and hasn’t invested heavily in alternative fuel vehicles or the development of effective public transit across the United States to make it easier for people to skip the cars and take the train instead. Ford has also been cited in industrial pollution lawsuits and OSHA has penalized it for labor violations. These facts are important to keep in mind when praising companies for their more socially and environmentally responsible moves — it’s important to look at a company’s warts and all to avoid rewarding it for harmful business practices.

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Photo credit: Dwight Sipler.

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59 comments

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3:15AM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

Interesting. Thanks.

1:13PM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

Thank you.. . that is interesting to read.

5:21AM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

i think its a fantastic new way of doing things.. I wish more big companies started replacing the stuff they use to make it healthier for our Earth!

11:20AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Wow it never occurred to me that plastics could be made from organic materials. Love this! Would gladly compost my tomato skins for Ford or anyone else

12:27AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Thank you for sharing.

10:40PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Bioplastic will replace plastic made from petroleum, sooner rather than later. Invicta has already created a biobased substitute for Lycra, which is now produced by Koch Industries, and should be boycotted whenever possible.

8:52PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

strange

7:06PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Thanks

6:15PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

...thanks.

5:55PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

Ford would definitely approve of this, as one of his original model Ts was built of hemp resin, as others here have noted. Good to see Heinz and Ford being clever, in a green way.

These ideas always sound perfect, and they are, as long as the need for the waste material does not overtake the amount of waste material available. Otherwise, that puts us in the territory of food being used for building materials, which is a dangerous area indeed.

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