We're Heading Toward a Future With Recycled Food and Clothes Inside Our Cars

Automotive manufacturers have multiple ways of making their vehicles more sustainable besides fitting them with a zero-emission powertrain. For instance, they can opt for sustainable materials regarding car interiors. A new study by Callum shows that coffee, walnuts, eggs, lentils, and rice could be just as likely found in your future car's interior as in your grocery shopping cart.
Callum - study of sustainable interior materials 10 photos
Photo: Callum
CameriaCoffee PulpEconylEggshellFeline FeltFlax CompositePlanqRed LentilCallum - study of sustainable interior materials
Designers and engineers are already considering sustainable options for car interior materials. For example, BMW announced last year that models of the Neue Klasse due to be launched starting in 2025 will come with trim parts made out of plastic containing about 30% recycled nets and ropes. Admittedly, that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a step in the right direction. And since a major brand such as BMW is taking measures to create more sustainable vehicles, it can set an example for other companies to follow in its new steps.

But of course, before implementing such measures, it’s essential to conduct as much research as needed to test the feasibility of new materials. One of the companies focusing on making car interiors more sustainable is Callum. Callum is a design and engineering business creating bespoke and limited-edition products. The company is specialized in design, lifestyle, and travel and has collaborated with individuals and brands across several segments, such as art, automotive, audio, fashion, and motorsport.

Callum carries out design, prototyping, machining, and trim services in a 20,000 square feet facility in Warwick, UK. The British designer Ian Callum is the co-founder and design director for the firm. He is renowned for his extensive automotive work, with projects such as the Aston Martin Vanquish, Vantage and DB9, Jaguar F-Type, F-PACE, and others under his belt.

Red Lentil
Photo: Callum
The company's new initiative is meant to discover fresh options – Charlotte Jones and Ian Callum lead the company's team. It uses a retromod Porsche 911 interior as the basis for the research to identify coffee pulp, eggshells, red lentils, walnuts, and rice as viable materials for a car interior in 2030.

In the UK alone, thousands of tons of food are wasted every single day – in this context, Callum identified an opportunity to reuse food to create new materials. The company partnered with green-tech company Ottan to find the appropriate materials to replace plastic while meeting a car's strict design, environmental, and engineering requirements.

One of the identified solutions that meet the requirements, specifically regarding temperature and wear, is eggshells mixed with resin. The resulting material is smooth and opaque, with either a matte or glossy surface. It can be applied inside the trim surround for the window switches. Furthermore, by adding walnut shells to the eggshells, Ottan's material will have a 6% increase in its recycled content, from 78% to 84%.

Photo: Callum
Another solution is using out-of-date rice or lentils to create a smooth translucent material that can be used ideally for illuminated areas of vehicles, such as illuminated switches or lamp covers.

You probably didn't expect this, but coffee pulp can be used as a flame-resistant alternative. It can be processed and utilized as a replacement for traditional plastics for glossy, decorative trims like dashboard inserts, for example.

Even if you use food waste to create sustainable materials, you don't have to sacrifice the visuals. For instance, you can still offer vivid colors when using alternative materials. Callum identified that the purple carrot pulp could produce a mulberry-like color for trim parts. What's more, tree leaves can be transformed into a dark surface as an alternative to wood finishes for the center console or dashboard.

Coffee Pulp
Photo: Callum
Another significant waste we produce globally is clothes. Callum's head of materials and sustainability, Charlotte Jones, declared that we consume around 62 million tons of textiles a year, and about 87% of the total fiber input for clothes ends up landfilled or incinerated. However, companies like Planq have designed a process to reuse certain garments. For instance, the company takes jeans, shreds them, and presses them with potato or corn starch to create a hard veneer, which can then be used in seat shells or dash centers. Callum's design study explores other ways to upcycle clothes waste.

And lastly, we have plastic waste. Callum's design study uses Camira, a fabric made from marine plastic waste such as polyester, and Feline, a soft material from PET bottles, to cover bolster surfaces. There are two advantages for both these materials. First, they offer no weight penalty compared to standard materials, and second, they can be recycled multiple times. Callum has added a hemp/flax composite option for its latest project, the Barq EV scooter, to demonstrate its sustainability studies.

Now that Callum has demonstrated that sustainable materials can respect the requirements and are production feasible by 2030, the next step is to test the material in upcoming projects. Ian Callum said, "More of our customers are starting to think about sustainable projects and put an emphasis on the circular economy. With others, we might nudge them down that path, highlighting the business benefits of making a more sustainable choice."
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About the author: Mircea Mazuru
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Starting out with a motorcycle permit just because he could get one two years earlier than a driver's license, Mircea keeps his passion for bikes (motor or no motor) alive to this day. His lifelong dream is to build his own custom camper van.
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