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A Bumper Crop of Waste Diversion: Ford’s Recycling Program at 10 Years

Words by Leon Kaye

Their environmental impact is huge, yet automobiles are products that have a high recycling rate at the end of their use. Ford Motor is one company that has ramped up its recycling efforts in recent years. In fact, since 2003, the automaker claims that it has prevented 120 million pounds of damaged car parts alone--through both recycling and remanufacturing.

And one of Ford’s waste diversion initiatives, called the “Ford Core Recovery Program,” keeps adding new parts to the company’s recycling list. In addition to transmissions, sensors and windshield wiper motors, Ford recently added bumpers and headlights to its recycling and refurbish list.

This program is between Ford and its dealer network. As has been the case with most automakers, Ford has recycled and remanufactured parts for many years. But, at one time, a crack or a ding in a part such as a bumper would immediately render the part completely useless. However, as raw materials rose in price, parts became more complex and the company realized it had to do more about recycling, the program grew in size and scope. What was once a confusing and chaotic procedure for Ford’s dealers has now transformed into a more seamless recycling program--a department within Ford’s corporate structure picks up parts on a regular basis and then starts the refurbishing process.

Examples of this recycling program include headlights, which have become more complicated the past 15 years. A generation ago, headlights were a simple contraption generally composed of a bulb, glass and a reflector. But now headlight assemblies have become chock full of parts--often consisting of expensive plastics--and at a width of two feet on average, have become integral to a vehicle’s assembly, design and function. One year ago, Ford started the headlight program under the Core Recovery Program, and so far 26,000 headlight units have been returned to the company.

Meanwhile, bumpers are one way in which Ford is inching towards more of a “closed loop” recycling system. Ford collects the various bumpers from dealers, shreds them and then sends the material to its vendor who can then manufacture brand new bumpers. Since this program’s start two years ago, 62,000 bumpers have been recycled via this program.

As a result, Ford’s reduction in waste that sent to landfills since 2003 is equivalent to six days worth of trash generating in New York City or 5.6 million garbage bags--the amount needed to fill Allianz Stadium or 5,000 school buses. And Ford also generates revenue as the result of this recycling program. So all those fender-benders nationwide in the long run are not a total loss.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Ford Motor Co.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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