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Automakers going green by using more recycled materials

November 16, 2010

Detroit’s automakers are finding new uses for worn-out jeans, discarded plastic bottles and manufacturing rubbish. They’re recycling them for use in new vehicle parts.

According to the Detroit News, with the rage over going green hitting the marketplace, auto companies are looking for ways to make their vehicles more sustainable, not just under the hood but behind the wheel. They’re incorporating more recycled materials into interiors, upholstery, and moldings, and partnering with suppliers to develop new bio-based products to replace manmade plastics.

For auto companies, it’s worth the effort to up their showroom cred with the green-living set. "If we have two parts — one is recycled, the other one is virgin — and they perform and cost the same, why wouldn’t you use the recycled one?" asked Lora Herron, a materials engineer for General Motors Co. who leads the company’s efforts to green its materials.

Aside from the feel-good benefits of using eco-friendly materials, automakers also see some cost savings in finding greener alternatives for plastics, fibers, and moldings — although not always.

Last year 9 percent of all recycled milk cartons, laundry detergent bottles, and other materials made out of high-density polyethylene were used in automotive parts in the United States. But the automakers’ green strategy does not come without challenges. Parts need to perform well but also stand up to the kind of wear-and-tear sustained by vehicles over time.