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2011 Grand Jeep Cherokee swaps soy foam for recycled foam

Chrysler is replacing soy-based foam with recycled foam in its 2011 Grand Jeep Cherokee. Which is greener?

FPI Studios

Chrysler has found a way to make use of 180,000 pounds of polyurethane foam that would otherwise end up in a landfill. And if you find yourself in a 2011 Grand Jeep Cherokee, you'll be sitting on some of it.

The seats and headrests found in the new 2011 Grand Jeep Cherokees are partly composed of new recycled foam. Starting a green-versus-greener debate, the recycled foam comprises by weight 5 percent of the seat and 10 percent of the headrest, and replaces the previously used amount of soy foam. To put it in perspective, 180,000 pounds of foam is equivalent to 50 average swimming pools, 33 garbage trucks, or 15 fully compacted semi trailers full of foam that won't decompose in our lifetime.

Swapping soy foam for recycled foam may sound like an even trade, but the carmaker explains that while soy foam is renewable, it is created using additional resources. In a video produced by Chrysler, researchers explain the chemical process for breaking down old foam to create new material. The carmaker didn't say from where it sources the recycled foam (wouldn't it be nice if it came from other retired vehicles?), but it says that it reuses all post-industrial waste generated during the recycling process. Chrysler also plans to increase the amount of recycled foam to 10 percent in seats and 20 percent in headrests in the future.

While I'm not sure if using recycled foam is better than soy foam, the move is a reminder that the environmental impact of a vehicle isn't just tailpipe emissions. A few carmakers, including Ford and Smart, have highlighted the recyclability of their vehicles in addition to their fuel economy, creating another statistic that environmentalists can get excited about. For the record, Ford announced that its 2011 Explorer is 85 percent recyclable, while Smart said its ForTwo is up to 95 percent recyclable.