In 2008 Philips Consumer Lifestyle started a program for sustainable innovation with a series of workshops to investigate possibilities around closing the loop of its products. People from different functions and departments brainstormed around business model possibilities, alternative materials and value chain management. These workshops delivered tangible results in different areas and included four flagship products; one of which, the Senseo Viva Café Eco — our most sustainable Senseo coffee machine to date — has influenced the design of many other products.
The workshops helped raised the awareness, understanding and engagement of our employees, who were convinced that Philips could make steps towards closing the loop. The main challenge was to find the right partners along the value chain that will help delivered a sustainable solution with no compromise on product design, quality and performance. The challenge also required that all claims related to sustainability had to be technically proven and accepted by the market.
As a first step, the innovation team had to define a "sustainable coffee machine." Based on research on the environmental impacts of our Senseo machines and feedback from our customers we defined the following targets around the Philips Green Focal Areas:
- Energy Efficiency: Automatic shutdown after 5 minutes
- Packaging: More than 90% recycled content
- Substances of concern: Phase out of PVC and brominated flame retardants
- Weight: At least 10% lighter than competing products
- Recycling and Disposal: 90% of all materials should be recyclable and 50% of all plastics should be made from recycled plastics
- Lifetime Reliability: Technical lifetime of 7 years based in IEC/KEMA approvals
The biggest challenges to developing such a Senseo were around the use of 50% recycled plastics, since limited knowledge was available from other projects, as well as limited sources for recycled plastics. Therefore, all the knowledge in terms of materials and processes had to be explored; including the cooperation with the entire value chain to make this project a success.
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In cooperation with the recycler Coolrec, we co-developed a recycling line that improved the quality of the recycled materials to a level that could be reused in new appliances. On this line we recycled old Philips products collected from our service centers and separated from the mixed e-waste stream. The plastics from these Philips products were brought back into the drip tray of the Senseo Viva Café Eco. The same line was also used to test the actual recycling rate of the Senseo coffee machines.
Together with our recycled plastics suppliers we developed tests to show the process capabilities of the plastics. The focal areas of these tests were the molding capabilities, lifetime durability, color stability and compliance to the Philips Standards and specifically to the Philips Restricted Substance List. The successful completion of these tests meant that the materials could be released as standard materials.
As recycled plastics can often show physical defects due to small contaminations, their application is often limited to non-visible parts. Our engineers developed a high-end and low-cost 3D texturing, which meant that recycled plastics could be used in visible parts while still ensuring a high-end look and feel.
As a result of all of these activities the following achievements were made:
- 50% of all plastics used were made from recycled content
- 13 parts were made from 100% recycled plastics
- 4 new materials were validated and 4 new suppliers introduced
- 76 tons of waste were reused into new products
- Over 90% of all materials in the Senseo Viva Café Eco can be recycled again at the end of its life
The commercial launch of the Senseo Viva Café Eco in 2010 was the end of this sustainable innovation project, but it was also the start of a much larger project. Based on the experiences gained with other comparable products, Philips Consumer Lifestyle has set a target for the use of 4000 tons of recycled plastics by 2015. At the moment several of the materials used in the Viva Café Eco have also been used in other products. As an example, the entire Senseo Viva Café range now contains recycled plastics parts and also many vacuum cleaners and irons are made from recycled plastics.
We believe that the use of recycled plastics in new Philips products can help pave the way for the closing of other loops as well. For example, until now the focus on the recycling of e-waste has always been on the metals and electronics contained in the products. Many of the plastics are either incinerated or reused in low-grade applications. We hope that by showing that recycled materials can be used in high-quality products, we are providing an incentive to the entire recycling industry to improve its plastics recycling processes, and we hope to challenge our competitors to join our journey towards closing the loop.