Refinity® Allowing Materials to Flow
This machine, which at first glance seems so unremarkable, actually forms the heart of a unique process: Refinity®. The research team experiments endlessly with the unit, with no apparent success. They finally decide: ‘We’ll try it one last time, and then we’ll stop.’ Just when things seem to go wrong, the team discovers a way to achieve mechanical separation. Sustainability Director Rudi Daelmans dares to take the risk and says: ‘yes, we’ll be using this machine.’
Rudi Daelmans – Director Sustainability
'I like to challenge employees: name one other company that takes its products and those of the competition back from the market and recycles them? There just aren’t any.'
How do you develop a carpet tile that can easily be broken down into its individual components? And then can subsequently be recycled in an infinite technical cycle? For assembled products like furniture, one can use, for instance, a click-system to simply detach the components from one another after its useful life. This constitutes a drastic improvement for a product’s sustainability. Inspired by this system, Daelmans and his team get cracking. However, it soon turns out that it doesn’t work this way for carpet. ‘This will never work,’ Daelmans thinks initially. The report written by a sector association reaches an equally devastating conclusion: the team’s objective is unfeasible. However, Michael Braungart says: ‘Don’t get weighed down by this project. Take small steps towards your goal and start with a transitional phase.’ It’s the exact encouragement that Daelmans and his team had needed.
Today’s carpet materials: how can they be recovered tomorrow?
Such a transitional phase involves taking back used products and trying to do something useful with them. With this insight, the team experiments with a variety of techniques and ultimately arrives at the Refinity® process. This technique separates the heavy fractions from the light fractions of the carpet. ‘Many people don’t know there is something like polypropylene, as well as two kinds of polyamide in a carpet. For us, the fact that there are so many materials to handle is precisely what makes this such a challenge. The products in question weren’t originally manufactured for recycling.’
The DESSO Refinity® process has progressed to such an extent that it can currently reduce all carpet tiles with polyamide 6 into a basic building block from which the yarn supplier can make new yarn. The bitumen backing which cannot be recycled by Desso is used as raw material for roofing and road construction. The materials that can not be separated or don’t contain the useful PA 6 or bitumen are used as secondary fuel in the cement industry ‘When studying a material, we want to find out how we can recycle it into usable building blocks. The main issue is to try things out. It’s a road less travelled, and once you venture down this road, you can no longer predict what will happen. You need to keep believing in a successful outcome and stay the course.’
There’s not a single product that stores as much material as a building. Architects are thus necessary to keep the material flow moving.
Daelmans talks about material flows rather than products. Within these flows, he sees an essential role for architects. After all, architects determine which materials are tied up in a specific location for a certain period. There’s not a single product that stores as much material as a building. Architects are thus necessary to keep the material flow moving. A lot of material currently ends up on the rubbish tip. ‘This means that we are burning a lot of valuable material. We should be ashamed of this. In terms of carpet, we need to give serious thought to which materials we use in carpet today, and how we can recover them tomorrow. This is also a current theme for architects. There’s an enormous problem with unoccupied office buildings. What we’re saying is: ensure that the material stream never ends. Enable DESSO Refinity®.
We’re the party that collects old carpet and processes it into new carpet. This creates benefits for everyone. With 700 different sustainability labels, I understand that people can no longer see the forest for the trees. Cradle to Cradle® isn’t one of those labels, but it is a design philosophy that stands for creating healthy metabolisms. It’s all about putting healthy materials into infinite flows, using sustainable energy and social practices to do so. It’s not the label that counts but it are the actions of a company that count. You can ask us for projects that are practical demonstrations of this philosophy.’
Waste Management Company
One consequence of communicating about the Refinity® process and a proactive stance is that every day, the company is called up by people who are convinced they have the solution. ‘The best test for sifting the wheat from the chaff is to say: “Fine; just tell us where we can send two tons of material.” At that point, most people give up. But it also leads to a lot of useful contacts and opportunities we never thought of. For instance, a dye supplier asked us where the dye ends up and thinks about his part in recycling. People are thinking along with us all around. The sustainability department has established a virtual waste management company within Desso. Our sphere of action has become incredibly broad. We are currently working on energy generation, water consumption, the toxicity of materials and how to get people on board with the stream approach.