Ever wonder what happens to your car when it reaches the end of its life? It's not pretty. Most of it is sent to a scrap yard, where usable parts are stripped, and the rest is trashed. There's at least one part that can get a new life, though: the seatbelt.
Webbed fabric, often polyester or nylon, is used to make seatbelts. They're always made from a durable, but flexible material -- and it has to be if it's going to save your life in a car crash. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the webbed material used in seatbelts can hold 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms). For more on how seatbelts protect you, see How Seatbelts Work.
Seatbelt material can deteriorate slightly over time -- not enough to make it totally unusable, but enough to make it unsafe for your car. For that reason, and for aesthetic ones, seatbelts usually aren't stripped from old cars to be reused in other cars. That doesn't change the fact that the material is still strong enough to be used in a variety of other applications.
In this article, we'll look at five ways innovative designers are recycling your old seatbelts.
Belts and Shoes
This is one piece that you can conceivably make yourself, although there are manufacturers who make them in a variety of styles. After cutting the strap out of the car, you can seal the frayed edges with a lighter, and then sew the ends together using heavy-duty nylon thread. The connecting belt pieces of the seatbelt can then be used as a belt buckle [source: Instructables].
Feel like being stylish and eco-friendly? You can make yourself a pair of sandals to match that belt. The same seatbelt you used to create the belt can be cut up and sewn to the soles of old flip-flops (with the previous straps removed) to create sandals. The material is strong enough to stand up to almost any foot traffic, considering it was designed to stand up to car traffic.
Designers are creating purses and bags out of seatbelts by weaving old seatbelt fabric sheets. By using seatbelt material, the bags are durable enough to stand up to most wear and tear.
Purses are now among the hottest items created from seatbelts. Increased demand has led to more manufacturers using seatbelt material rather than recycled seatbelts. An easy way to tell that a seatbelt purse is not constructed from old seatbelts is the look. If a purse is available in colors that you wouldn't find in a car -- hot pink, for example -- chances are good that the material is not recycled, since the dye could weaken a seatbelt's webbing and render it unsafe to use in your car.
Making your own bag requires more than simple sewing and weaving skills, but it's certainly doable. Start by wrapping strips of the belt material around a block the size of the bag you want, then weaving another set of strips so that a tight web of material is created. You can add another strip as a shoulder strap using heavy duty nylon thread and add other features, like a zipper or button closure, a cloth lining for the interior or an adjustable strap [source: Twofoos].
Recycled seatbelts can also be woven into large sheets that can be used for hammocks. The hammocks are durable and manufactured by weaving the belts so that the hammock cradles the body more than conforms to it, as with traditional rope hammocks [source: Koerner].
Unfortunately, recycled material may be more difficult to come by in large enough quantities to make an entire hammock. Designers like Inghua Ting instead use end of the line material -- seatbelt material made specifically for vehicles no longer in production or that have been redesigned. They may also use rejected seatbelt material, set aside because of minor weaving flaws (the seat belt may be too weak to safely use in a vehicle, but still durable enough to hold you) or mismatched colors [source: Ting London].
This is definitely a more time-intensive and serious DIY project than most. Your best bet is to learn about weaving from a professional, as an improperly woven hammock is useless and potentially dangerous to boot. Plus, designing a hammock using woven seatbelt material requires more than a webbed flat surface, as the material is flexible enough to shift with weight on it [source: Ting London].
Pillows and Cushions
Beyond pillows, seat cushions for chairs can be covered or re-covered using seatbelts. For instance, designer Nuttapong Charoenkitivarakorn, of Thailand furniture company Boonchucharoenkit, uses scrap seatbelt material for his lounge chair [source: Treehugger]. Designer Peter Danko's dining chairs, which uses end or line or discontinued seatbelt material, have been used for their durability in style in homes as well as high-traffic areas like restaurants and malls [source: Danko].
Looking for a DIY re-covering? Consider those aluminum chairs in your garage with the frayed webbing: Instead of throwing the chairs away, head to the local junkyard for some seatbelt material to replace the worn-out straps. Cut the old straps from your lawn chair, and wrap the seatbelt material in its place, using strong nylon thread and even screws to hold the material safely in place.
An alternative DIY project is a pillow made from seatbelt material. Similar to constructing a purse or bag, the material can be woven around a block the size of the pillow you want, then stuffed and sewn shut with heavy nylon thread.
Woven seatbelts can be stretched across recycled canvas frames to create modern art pieces. The webbing created from a variety of seatbelts with varying degrees of wear and tear can add visual interest to a square piece of art that can be as small or as large as the artist or buyer desires.
Artists who create such pieces can use environmentally friendly material like recycled seatbelts. They don't need to be as thoroughly cleaned like it would be if the material was being used for a pillow. To add to its green appeal, the frames can be constructed out of environmentally friendly sustainable sources like bamboo or reclaimed wood.
Most school buses in the U.S. don't have seat belts, leaving the children inside vulnerable to injury in a crash. HowStuffWorks wants to know why.
More Great Links
- Automedia.com. (Oct. 9, 2008) http://www.automedia.com/Saving_Seatbelts/res20001101sr/1
- Chalmers-Brooks, Katie. "Seatbelt recyclers have success in the bag." Business Edge: British Columbia Business News. Jan. 12, 2006.http://www.businessedge.ca/article.cfm/newsID/11615.cfm
- Danko. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://www.peterdanko.com
- Encyclopedia Britannica Online. "Vehicular safety devices." (Sept. 14, 2008)http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9074956.
- Etsy. (Sept. 14, 2008)http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=11048445
- GetUsedParts.com. (Sept. 14, 2008) http://www.getusedparts.com/auto_parts_guide/S/used_seat_belt.html
- Great Green Goods. (Sept. 14, 2008)http://greatgreengoods.com/index.php?s=seatbelt
- Harveys Seatbelt Bag. (Sept. 14, 2008)http://www.seatbeltbags.com/
- Inhabitat. (Sept. 14, 2008)http://www.inhabitat.com/2005/05/30/recycled-seatbelt- furniture/
- Instructables. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://www.instructables.com/id/Seat-Belt-Belt/
- Koerner, Brendan I. "Buckle Up? No, Sit Back and Relax." New York Times. July 15, 2007. (Sept 14, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/business/yourmoney/15goods.html
- Recycled Seatbelts. (Sept.14, 2008)http://www.recycledseatbelts.com/
- Seatbelt Purse. (Sept.13, 2008)http://www.twofoos.com/crafts/sp.html
- Ting London. (Sept.14, 2008)http://tinglondon.com
- Treehugger. (Sept. 14, 2008)http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/seat-belt-lounge.php