Trabant, those horrid little cars from East Germany built during the old reign of Communism were actually the first cars to be largely made from recycled materials. Much of the body panels were made from a material known as Duraplast, which was made largely from recycled cotton waste, cardboard and plastic material. As bad as this sounds, Trabants actually were slightly better in a crash than many small steel body hatchbacks sold in the West.
East Germany was able to avoid costly steel imports by producing the Trabant largely from these recycled materials. But, the car was also a major failure of the central planning of the Communist government, where a lack of foreign trade also meant a poor economy and few consumers goods compared to West Germany.
More than 3 million of the East German cars were built, powered by a lowly 27hp 600cc two cylinder two stroke engine. Since the cars didn’t have a fuel pump, the gasoline tank was placed above the engine and worked on a gravity feed. And since the cars were a two stroke design, they were known for being a Smokey design and not known to be very environmentally friendly.
Not only was the engine design about as unadvanced as they come, but the column mounted manual shifter was a little bit difficult to operate as well, making the Trabant a fairly unpleasurable automobile to drive. Yet, because it was difficult enough to wait for one to be built to buy a new Trabant, meant that used Trabants often sold for more than new ones. Further, the average owner took such good care of these cars that they had an average 28 year life, until places like the United States where consumers quickly make trash of expensive new cars, sending them to the steel crusher within a few years.
Americans claim to be environmentally conscious, yet they only continue wasteful consumerism, quickly using up the life of products before making trash of them. But, on the other hand, this endless cycle of producing goods, destroying them, and then buying more goods does create jobs. But, far less advanced economies like that of East Germany learned how to make products last, despite highly questionable product quality and reliability.