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Product, Service & Design Innovation
New Breakthrough Technologies Find Solutions for Hard-to-Recycle Products

Ambitions to reduce waste and move away from a linear economic model are driving companies across the globe to create breakthrough technologies and unique solutions to drive forward the circular economy.

Ambitions to reduce waste and move away from a linear economic model are driving companies across the globe to create breakthrough technologies and unique solutions to drive forward the circular economy.

On Monday, Patagonia received recognition for its significant contributions to the circular economy at the Annual Meet of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The Accenture Strategy Award for Circular Economy Multinational, which was granted by the World Economic Forum’s Community of Young Global Leaders in collaboration with Accenture Strategy, acknowledges the work being done by Patagonia to advance the circular economy, driving innovation and growth, while reducing dependence on scarce natural resources.

“We are honored to receive this meaningful, important recognition,” said Ryan Gellert, general manager, Patagonia Europe, who accepted the award on behalf of the company. “While Patagonia is proud to accept this award, we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with a circular economy model. There is still so much work to be done to change global consumption habits and encourage reuse and repair.”

The global apparel market is currently valued at $3 trillion, but the growing trend towards fast fashion has created a very linear economic model that produces enormous waste. In contrast, Patagonia is working to counter this approach with a circular business model that focuses on making the highest quality products and helping its customers keep them in use as long as possible.

Launched in 2013, with a message of “It It’s Broke, Fix It," Worn Wear was created as a way to encourage people to take good care of their gear, washing and repairing as needed, and eventually recycling once the garment can no longer be used. Patagonia’s Worn Wear repair facility in Reno, Nevada repairs over 45,000 items per year and the company operates retail repair stations around the world, in addition to providing its customers with free tools for repairing their own clothing. With every pair, the company provides feedback to their designers to improve future products.

In the summer of 2017, Patagonia will launch an e-commerce Worn Wear platform where the company will sell used Patagonia clothing and gear online, sourced directly from its customers. Customers will be invited to bring used items to their local Patagonia store in exchange for Patagonia merchandise credits. The goal of this platform is to extend the life of garments by encouraging people to sell unused clothing, reach new customers and promote the durability and quality of Patagonia products. Additionally, Patagonia will again take Worn Wear on the road, visiting 21 college campuses across the country to support the efforts of student-led zero-waste movements that encourage reduced consumption, repairing, reusing and responsibly recycling.

“Receiving the Accenture Strategy Award for Circular Economy Multinational in Davos is an indication that we are on the right path and hopefully will increase awareness for these issues and inspire other businesses to follow in our footsteps,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s President and CEO. “We want our friends and customers to learn that the single best thing you can do for the planet is to use stuff longer. Our goal as a company is to continue to provide the tools and resources to make this philosophy a reality in our customers’ lives. We are very excited about our new online platform which we hope will take Worn Wear to a new level.”

Meanwhile, DSM-Niaga just became the first company to deliver a 100 percent recyclable carpet in the carpet industry. After diapers, carpeting is the most prominent item in landfills across the country, with more than four billion pounds of carpeting ending up in landfills every year. That’s about two percent of all municipal solid waste every year, according to EPA estimates.

Traditional carpeting is composed of several different materials bound together by high-temperature cured latex that must be taken apart before processing, which is both time consuming and expensive. Currently, the easiest way to recycle carpeting is to shave carpet fiber off the facing of the carpet, and the small percentage of carpet that is actually recycled employs this process.

To tackle the issue, Dutch Multinational DSM and tech startup Niaga have joined forces to reimagine the way carpet is created from the ground up. Together, they designed a mono-material system in which the polyester carpet fibers are bound together with the polyester padding using a polyester adhesive. This ensures the carpet can be recycled in full into new fibers for carpet, using well-known polyester recycling technologies. DSM-Niaga are hoping this new system will become the standard manufacturing technology in the carpeting industry.

Not only does Niaga’s new technology make carpet 100 percent recyclable, but it also renders carpet lighter, easier to install because there is no longer a need for tack strips and padding, and free of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

Mohawk, the second-largest manufacturer of carpet and flooring in the U.S., is the first to use Niaga’s system, incorporating into its new Airo brand launched this week at the Surfaces carpeting tradeshow in Las Vegas. The carpet is already gaining significant interest from retailers.

“Environmental issues like landfill waste and water contamination are becoming real problems in the U.S. We have a corporate responsibility to work on solutions that will allow all of us to live safely without the fear of poisoning ourselves,” said Bruce Petrovick, account manager at DSM North America. “So we started redesigning the product from the ground up to make it fully recyclable. We were surprised by some additional performance benefits, which later proved to be crucial to make it work in the market place.”

Niaga is currently in talks with other carpet makers to license its technology and DSM-Niaga will begin exploring ways to break into markets beyond carpeting. “The opportunity to play a role in the circular economy is huge, if we are able to reduce the complexity of materials used in, say the fashion, automotive and food industries, the way we did with carpets. Stuff made from a simple set of known and safe materials have value to our economy at the end of their use phase, instead of being an environmental disaster,” said Lukas Hoex, marketing manager at DSM-Naiga.

Finally, MDF Recovery claims to have pioneered a breakthrough technology that recycles medium-density fiberboard (MDF), offering an alternative to landfill or incineration of waste products.

Composite wood fiber and adhesive makes MDF material extremely difficult to recycle. More than 50 million tons of MDF are produced worldwide each year across a variety of markets. In Great Britain alone, 350,000 tons of MDF are disposed of each year.

MDF Recovery’s new technology is able to separate the composite wood fiber from the adhesive without compromising the quality of the material. The recovered wood fiber is of the same quality as virgin wood and can, therefore, be used as feedstock for MDF board, insulation products and formable packing materias.

MDF Recovery says it is already in discussions with a number of leading businesses interested in adopting the technology within the next few months. The technology is particularly attractive to the retail sector, which uses significant amounts of MDF each year.

“The recycling process we have developed is a genuine world first,” said Craig Bartlett, managing director at MDF Recovery. “There is no other environmentally-friendly alternative to the use of landfill or burning to dispose of MDF waste.”

“Our technology can be retrofitted or designed into new plants and offers a robust solution for reworking waste and increase the yield at the MDF manufacturing facility. Zero waste production is now a real possibility. The financial payback is dependent on the size of the MDF plant, but in larger plants is expected within 18 months. The technology can also process industrial and commercial forms of MDF waste, allowing manufacturers to take back material from their customers — a so-called ‘closed loop’ solution.”

Industry experts also see the technology as a potential accelerator for a circular, resource-efficient approach in the built environment, particularly in relation to hard-to-recycle construction materials.