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Recycled Plastic Bottles Find New Use in Carpeting of Ford Escape

They’re found nearly everywhere – on desks and in break rooms at work, on kitchen tables and counters at home, rolling under seats in cars, on the sidelines of athletic fields and heaped in trash cans and recycling bins.

They’re plastic beverage bottles, and seemingly not of much use when they’re empty.

Except at Ford. Ford Motor Company uses 25 20-ounce plastic bottles to make the carpeting in the Ford Escape utility vehicle. The Escape represents the first time Ford has used this type of carpeting in an SUV. “It’s a good use of recycled product and keeps it out of landfills,” said Laura Sinclair, Ford engineer and mother of two young boys whose job is to make sure all materials meet Ford durability standards.

Consider the positive impact this type of use can have on the environment:

  • Total all-time sales of the next-generation Escape through June of this year were about 277,000. Multiply that number by 25, the number of bottles used in the carpeting, and you get 6,925,200 bottles potentially diverted from landfills. That’s right: nearly 7 million
  • The environmental news potentially gets even better because Escape is one of Ford’s best-selling vehicles. In fact, 156,626 Escapes had been sold this year alone through the end of June.
  • If that rate continues, that means nearly an additional 1.5 million bottles potentially could be diverted from landfills, bringing the total to more than 8 million bottles

All materials have to pass extensive durability tests. Sinclair and her team look for “chalking,” which appears if the fibers degrade and mash themselves into a white residue as they break apart. Chalking, or dusting, is the precursor to a hole forming in the carpet. “The discoloration is one of the first signs of wear, and of course something the customer will see right away,” said Sinclair.

Testing is done on a device called a Taber 5150, which looks similar to a record player. A carpet sample about the size of a DVD is placed in the middle and spins while two weights rub the sample to simulate accelerated wear. “We run the tests almost daily and can simulate five or more years of service in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Sinclair.

Adding more plastic bottles to the mix reduces wear on the carpet. “The polyester fibers created from beverage bottles make up a nonwoven carpet material,” said Sinclair. “So think of it like when you make spaghetti – everything is intermixed.”

Also helping to mitigate wear is that the carpeting for the new Escape is backed with cast foam. Cast foam helps reduce road noise and also fills in ridges and crevices for a smoother backing.

This attention to detail is something Sinclair enjoys.

“I like being a materials engineer because it is hands-on and what we do has a great impact on our customers’ perception of quality,” said Sinclair.