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4 entries from April 2016

Making Cars Greener, One Renewable, Recyclable Material at a Time

“Green

A few years ago, I was gifted a bag that was sewn from recycled seat belts. It was a little heavy – the clasp was made out of a seat buckle – but it was very sturdy and helped me fit in with the hipsters in our neighbourhood.

Seatbelts aren’t the only things that get recycled from old cars – these days, as we outlined in our Recycle Your Ride post last year, most of your car can be recycled into a variety of useful products. But we don’t often hear about the cool recycled and renewable materials that car manufacturers are using to make new cars more lightweight and generally more Earth-friendly.

In honour of Earth Day last week, here are a few of the renewable and recycled materials you may find in your next – or current – vehicle.

“Renewable
Image: Edmunds.com

Soybean seat foam. Ford pioneered the use of seat foam made from soybean oil (instead of the usual petroleum-based foam) back in 2007. In fact, since 2011, every Ford vehicle made in North America has had soybean foam seat backs and cushions. Using soybean oil to make the foam has helped Ford decrease its annual CO2 emissions by 20 million pounds. Kia and Hyundai also use soybean foam in select models.

Recycled tires. Remember how hard cars are driven on the automotive proving grounds? Well, once the tires on the test cars are worn out, several car manufacturers recycle the rubber in those tires to make underhood parts, like air and water baffles.

Bioplastics. Car manufacturers like Toyota, Lexus and Ford are all using some kind of bioplastics – plastics derived from, or reinforced by, renewable plant materials like rice husks or sugarcane - in their cars.

Recycled fabric. Many car manufacturers, like Nissan and Ford, are using fabric made of recycled water bottles for their seat covers. Dodge is repurposing denim fabric in the trunk liner of their Dart. The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf both use recycled fabric as sound dampening material.

“Renewable
Image: Edmunds.com

For a more complete run down of vehicle manufacturers and their various uses of recycled or renewable materials, check out this article on Edmunds.com.

Is your vehicle on that list? Do you know what parts of your vehicle are recycled or made from renewable resources? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.


Solar Reflective Paint Technology to Increase Fuel Efficiency?

Sunny day, hot car

As noted in our handy Ways to Save on Fuel Infographic, reducing your air conditioning use can have a significant impact on your fuel use. How significant? According to Natural Resources Canada, running the A/C in your vehicle can increase your fuel consumption by up to 20%. When it comes to cooling the car while driving, you have a few options, such as:

  • Driving with the windows/sunroof open in the city;
  • Setting the A/C to “circulate” so that your car recirculates the already cool air in the cabin rather than pulling in hot air from outside; and
  • Using flow-through ventilation for both city and highway driving.

Aside from parking in the shade, however, keeping your car cool while you’re NOT driving can be a challenge. Enter this cool idea from Toyota – solar reflective paint. According to this article in Wired, Toyota has developed a paint that reflects sunlight, helping to keep the car cooler. Currently only available in Japan – and in this stunning lime green colour – the paint is meant to help minimize the amount of heat absorbed from the sun, leaving the cabin cooler and reducing the need to fire up the A/C.

Toyota Thermo-Tect Lime Green
Photo: Toyota

Ordinary white paint has similar solar reflective qualities as this new paint - but most other car paint colours include an element called “carbon black”, which is very helpful in adjusting paint hues but also absorbs a lot of heat. Toyota’s “Thermo-Tect Lime Green” paint is carbon black free and uses reflective titanium oxide particles to reflect the sun’s rays. No word from Toyota on just how much this new paint technology will help you save on fuel – but anything that helps cut down on air conditioning use is worth considering!

Would you drive a car with a lime green paint job if it meant you could save on fuel? Or will you wait until this solar reflective paint is available in more tame colours? Let us know in the comments! 

- Rose R.


Bringing Back the Jitney – Car Sharing Programs

Car

I was first introduced to the idea of car sharing over Sunday brunch. We had some friends over and when they came in, they mentioned they were pleased to find a parking spot on the street. I congratulated them (our neighbourhood is notorious for lack of street parking), but then one of them (let's call him Rob) said "Yeah, but the car probably won't be there when we're done."

Now, we may be notorious for lack of street parking, but we're not really a high car-theft neighbourhood. I assured Rob that the car probably wouldn't be stolen and he said, "Oh, no - it's a Car2Go. Now that we're not using it, it's flagged as 'available' in their system. Since this area of town is pretty popular for Sunday brunch, someone else will probably pick it up. That's OK - we should be able to find another one within walking distance."

Car2Go (one of several car sharing services in Canada) is a one-way service. After you join, you have access to all the cars in their fleet. You use an app to find one near you, drive to your destination and just leave it there. Other car sharing services are two-way: you book a specific vehicle for specific period of time, pick it up in its permanent spot and then return it to that spot when you're done.

Other types of services that can fall under the rubric of "car sharing" are businesses like Uber or Lyft, where individual car owners find riders in their area and drive them to their requested destination; or like Turo, where car owners can rent out their vehicles to individuals (currently only in the US, Turo is considering expanding to Canada).

Individual benefits of car sharing services are relatively straightforward: overall lower costs for transportation, including insurance, vehicle payments and maintenance; your savings will depend on how much you typically drive in a year. Research has pegged the savings in car sharing households from $154-435 (USD) monthly. But there are not just individual cost savings, there are also environmental benefits to car sharing, including reduced congestion and pollution.

Some of the estimates of environmental savings are quite significant. In a TED talk earlier this year, Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, when discussing the benefits of one of their new programs, uberPOOL - a carpooling service that they are piloting in select cities like Los Angeles, Paris, Shanghai and Bangalore - estimated that in the eight months it had been active in Los Angeles, they had taken 7.9 million miles off the road and 1.4 thousand metric tons of CO2 out of the air. In addition to stressing the positive environmental impact of car sharing, Kalanick provides a lively history of car sharing in North America (starting with the Jitney in 1914) and discusses other issues when services like Uber come to town, including municipal regulations and global adoption. 

Have you tried a car-sharing service? What was your experience? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!

- Rose R.


Monthly Poll: Car Free Days – For or Against?

Monthly Poll - Car Free Days

The sun is out here in Vancouver and so are all the people! Pretty much the minute the sun peeps out from behind the clouds, we’re all instantly in shorts. With more people walking and cycling in the not-rain, I was reminded this week that Car Free Day season is almost upon us!

Car Free Days were originally meant as anti-car protests but these days, they’re more like street festivals, where cities block off a major street for a day and pedestrians can roam freely, checking out live music and street food and other vendors. We have several in Vancouver every summer, staggered all over the city. Many car free days happen in conjunction with the annual World Car-Free Day, when drivers all over the globe are encouraged to leave their cars at home and use public transit, bikes or foot power to get around. This year’s event is on September 22, so mark your calendars!

The first time I encountered a Car Free Day in Vancouver, I was trying to run an errand on Commercial Drive and arrived there to find the street blocked off and pedestrians gamboling about in a festival-like atmosphere. It was novel to be able to walk on the road without fear of being run over – and liberating to not have to wait for the light in order to cross. Plus, the store I was visiting was giving out free samples. Winning!

The second time, we were having a dog emergency and were driving the dog to the vet. We didn’t know that the vet’s neighbourhood was having a car free day that day, so we had a take an enormous detour and park several blocks away in order to get there – carrying a 45lb sick dog up a hill was NOT the highlight of my week. So while I love the idea of car free days, I can see where they could really be problematic when you absolutely have to get somewhere by car…and can’t.

What do you think? Are car free days the greatest? Or do they drive you a little nuts? Take our poll below!

Do you have car free days in your city? Do you plan to attend…or stay away? Let us know in the comments!

- Rose R.