That floor mats are mostly made of plastic makes sense for many reasons. But does this plastic really have to be produced new every time? A young BMW team has developed a concept to avoid this.
Floor mats are things we don’t think about much as we wipe our feet all over them. And, yet, they are a vital piece of equipment in any car. Thanks to their durability and “catch-all capabilities”, they protect the flooring under our feet – or, at the very least, make it easier to clean. “The problem is, floor mats are made from several layers of materials with different plastic mixes that can no longer be separated and recycled,” explains Anna Goldhofer.
The 26-year-old is one of three young purchasing and development experts who form the BMW Group’s “Polycycle” team. Together with her two co-initiators, Lena Kupijai and Julia Graf, Goldhofer has set herself two very concrete goals: First of all, to reduce the need for new plastic in floor mats to the lowest possible level and use plastic waste instead – for instance, by processing ocean plastic so it can be used to produce mats. Second, to find a way to recycle production remnants and worn floor mats from end-of-life vehicles.
“Of course, the mat still has to meet the highest standards. But since mat production is relatively straightforward, it is perfectly suited for further steps to make our vehicles more sustainable. This is also a chance for us to gain experience with a view to a much more comprehensive plan: Our vision is to transfer the entire vehicle interior to a process that is as close to a closed-loop material cycle as possible,” says 28-year-old Lena Kupijai.
To drive the project forwards, the team is taking advantage of the BMW Group’s “Business for Purpose” accelerator programme, which gives employees the opportunity to develop their own ideas and initiatives to the point where they can be implemented at the company. “We operated almost like a start-up for a while – with the advantage that we were able to rely on the support of the company,” says Kupijai.
The Polycycle “start-up” achieved a great deal within just a few months: By using materials such as plastic nets fished from the sea, floor mats in the BMW Group’s upcoming production lines will contain over 4,000 tonnes less plastic. This is equivalent to around 5.1 million litres of crude oil and protects the environment from almost 90 percent of the carbon monoxide usually generated by production.
Polycycle has also moved a decisive step closer to its main goal of recycling old floor mats and turning them into new ones. The team has worked with manufacturers to develop mats that can be produced in a closed loop. This means that offcuts, i.e. remnants from production, can now also be completely recycled. “From a technical perspective, there’s nothing standing in the way of a comprehensive circular economy for millions of manufactured floor mats,” says Goldhofer. But there is one more major hurdle to overcome – because old floor mats are distributed all over the world and not collected separately. Cross-border recycling will not be possible until a solution is found for this.
Polycycle presented the project's achievements to more than 2,000 delegates from 190 countries at the One Young World Summit (OYWS) in London. OYW is a leading international forum for young talents and leaders seeking to actively shape the future and develop fresh ideas. The network also includes musicians such as Sir Bob Geldof, Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus, primate researcher Jane Goodall and author J. K. Rowling.