Desso: Including recyclability into the design phase of a product
It’s not very common to discover products that are not only made with recycled materials but also have circular economy principles built within from the first design phase so that they can be more easily recycled at the end of their product life. In this interview with Anette Timmer, Tarkett’s EMEA Marketing Director for Carpets/Workplace, we explore the potential of their fully recyclable EcoBase® backing for carpet flooring and the path that led Tarkett to develop the design of it as well as their long-time commitment to the principles of Cradle to Cradle.
When talking about a circular economy and sustainable products, a key target is to be able to not only make products that come from defined recycled ingredients, but also to make final products that are recyclable at the end of their useful life. This is also a great challenge in the carpet flooring industry where carpets can be considered as made of three parts: the upper part made of yarn, the primary backing and a secondary backing, each made of different materials. The role of the backing is mainly to be a support for the yarn construction and to stabilize the carpet on the flooring. The greatest challenge at the moment is to create a carpet that can be entirely recyclable at the end of its life, not only for the fiber part — which, with our ECONYL® fiber, is already regenerable an infinite number of times — but also for the backing layers. One of our customers, Tarkett, has a solution. In this article we interviewed Anette Timmer, Tarkett’s EMEA Marketing Director for Carpets/Workplace, to discover more about the EcoBase® backing, invented and developed by Desso (now part of Tarkett) as part of their long commitment to the principles of Cradle to Cradle and circular economy.
Why is it such a big challenge to create a carpet that is recyclable at the end of its life? What are the barriers normally?
Carpets contain many raw materials, both natural and synthetic, in the tuft cloth (the top layer of the carpet) and the backing. The materials used in conventional carpets are not necessarily designed to be reused or recycled when the carpet reaches end of life. They may also be mixed together in combinations that are hard to separate. Additionally, there has not been the infrastructure in place to recycle carpets effectively or at a large scale. That’s why we always emphasize that Cradle to Cradle® is a design philosophy, as re-design is what is needed to make your products better and also easier to disassemble and eventually recycle.
What is the difference between traditional backings and EcoBase®?
Traditional backings — such as bitumen, the most widely used backing in Europe — are typically not designed for disassembly (and are therefore hard to recycle). In contrast, our DESSO EcoBase backing is Cradle to Cradle® Gold-certified (with Cradle to Cradle® Platinum level for material health). This means it is made from 100% positively defined ingredients (including 75% positively defined upcycled calcium carbonate). EcoBase can be fully and safely recycled in our own production facility. It has also been third party verified that recycling of EcoBase-backed carpet tiles reduces CO2 with up to 20% per product cycle compared to co-generation of EcoBase in the cement industry.
What would you say are the main steps that brought you to this success with the EcoBase®? Where did it all start and when?
We recognize that our business has an impact on people and the environment. As the global population grows, against a backdrop of resource scarcity and climate change, it’s vital that companies, including Tarkett, take responsibility by conserving natural resources, reducing our impact on the environment and making products with materials that can be used safely again and again. This is the basis of the circular economy.
We started implementing the Cradle to Cradle® design philosophy in 2008, developing a goal to design products with only Cradle to Cradle® assessed materials by 2020. We launched EcoBase in 2010, in line with our Cradle to Cradle® ambition, and in response to the growing market demand for sustainable products.
To create EcoBase, we collaborated with partners both within our company (R&D, innovation and sales and marketing teams) and externally. In particular, we worked with EPEA, an independent scientific organization that assesses our products, to optimize the material health of this backing. We also worked with local water companies near our plant in Waalwijk in the Netherlands, in order to develop a process to upcycle calcium carbonate from their drinking water treatment to use as a stabilizer for our EcoBase backing.
Why it is so difficult to consider disassembly and recycling at the early stages of the design of a product?
DESSO EcoBase is a backing specifically designed with disassembly and recycling in mind. It can be challenging to consider this aspect from the outset as it involves a much more rigorous exploration of the properties of each material and research into how these materials might be separated and recycled when they reach end of use.
How does the Refinity process work?
ReStart® is our take-back program to collect post-consumer carpet tiles. Upon return, carpets are processed using our Refinity® recycling facility (in Waalwijk, in the Netherlands) which separates the yarn and other fibers from the backing. The applied treatment of each fraction is dependent on the quality and/or composition of the tiles.
Our Cradle to Cradle® Gold certified EcoBase backing is fully recyclable in our own production facility. The PA 6 yarn can be returned to Aquafil for the production of new yarn. Carpet tiles with bitumen backing (a backing used in most carpet tiles in Europe presently) is reused as high caloric fuel in the cement industry. All non-recyclable fractions during the process will be used as secondary fuel in the cement industry.
How difficult was to implement a take-back program?
Our take-back program is called ReStart®, and it was also launched in 2009. It has been challenging to implement as it requires the collaboration of many stakeholders, including customers and logistics partners. However, by maintaining open dialogue and strong channels of communication, we are overcoming these barriers.
The EcoBase® backing can be used in any kind of carpet?
The EcoBase backing is available for all of our carpet tile products. All carpet tiles products with DESSO EcoBase have achieved a Cradle to Cradle® Silver level certification. This means we have reached a level whereby up to 97% of the materials of the complete carpet tile are positively defined. More than 50% of our total carpet tile collection is now standard available with EcoBase, and this will increase in the coming years.
How does the collaboration with local drinking water companies came to life?
In collaboration with Reststoffenunie (now Aqua Minerals), an association of drinking water companies in the Netherlands, Tarkett has found a way to upcycle re-engineered calcium carbonate (chalk) from local Dutch drinking water companies such as Brabant Water and WML (Water Maatschappij Limburg). The chalk is positively defined in accordance with C2C criteria and is used for the production of DESSO carpet tiles with EcoBase backing, which are C2C Silver certified and 100% recyclable in our own production process.
Our first task was to design the DESSO EcoBase carpet tiles so that they could be disassembled when taken back in the post-consumer stage. The next stage was to look for new circular innovations. We are always looking for ways to utilize consistent waste streams as a nutrient for the production of our carpet tiles today.
In this case, we spotted along with our partners a way to use material streams from the drinking water industry, a completely different sector. The drinking water process leaves a residual of calcium carbonate after it has softened groundwater, a necessary step to make it suitable for drinking. In addition, soft water increases the life span of home appliances, as it reduces chalk deposits and therefore requires less cleaning.
We had some challenges, but with the strong commitment and support of all the partners, we were able to overcome them. Also with the help of Sibelco, an advanced global industrial minerals supplier, the calcium carbonate particle size and particle size distribution was tailored to our requirements, making this a true innovation in the value chain process.”
The process utilizes a material stream that might otherwise have ended up in less valuable outlets; and by sourcing and processing this material stream locally, we could ensure it had a positive impact on the environment and demonstrate perfectly how circular economy thinking can be brought into practice driven by our commitment to closing loops.
Do you have other examples of collaborations with other companies or NGOs?
We recently collaborated with our supplier Low & Bonar to develop a low antimony primary backing. By selecting a primary backing with up to 95% reduced antimony compared to the standard primary backing, we are offering customers the opportunity to benefit from products with optimized material health during use and safer recycling when the carpet reaches end of life.
Is collaboration somehow more important than before in the context of a wider design phase?
Yes, collaboration is very important. Circular innovation often requires collaboration with unlikely partners or with a wide range of partners, both within and outside the company, particularly when it comes to improving material health by upcycling ‘waste’ materials produced in other industries. It’s important to form a good relationship with the partner, discuss in detail how they exchange or process will work, and maintain a good ongoing relationship.
How was the reaction of the market to this new product?
We have received a very positive reaction from customers. There is a growing demand from customers for healthy, sustainable products, particularly as companies seek to fulfil their own sustainability goals.
Have you found that your customers are concerned with the sourcing of materials and ethical business practices?
Yes, there is a growing trend for customers to be interested in the provenance and make-up of products, and in the business practices of their suppliers. This is prompted by factors such as the growing consumer and investor interest in sustainability, and by the growing realisation that companies must act on social and environmental issues in order to continue being successful in the future and help ensure a habitable planet for future generations.
What will the next step of Tarkett into cradle to cradle and sustainability be? Do you have upcoming projects you can talk about?
Tarkett as a Group has recently enhanced its sustainability approach. It is called Doing Good Together. The central idea is that we help our customers to create healthier spaces by making sustainable flooring that is good for people and good for the environment. We listen to our customers’ needs and collaborate with all our stakeholders to design products that deliver optimal performance while promoting healthy living and conserving precious natural resources. As mentioned, our design philosophy is inspired by the circular economy. It offers our customers the opportunity to protect the environment and advance their sustainability goals by opting for flooring made with healthy materials that can be recovered, recycled and transformed into new products. Through Doing Good Together, we focus on three key areas: Designing for Life, Closing the Loop and Driving Collaboration.
In the past you often talk about transforming Desso’s carpet from a product to a service with the possibility of leasing projects. Is this still something you are working on?
Yes, we are enhancing our Circular Carpet Program. This is an initiative whereby we lease carpets to customers for a certain number of years, and at the end of the contract, we will recapture the tiles for recycling. This is a win-win initiative. We conserve natural resources by avoiding the need to source virgin raw materials (which also saves costs, particularly as resource scarcity can lead to volatile raw material costs). The customer gains flexibility, a high quality product that is well maintained over time. It also helps them to foster a creative workplace and contribute to improving employee wellbeing and fulfilling corporate responsibility goals.
How do you see the role of design to solve many sustainability problems we are facing today?
Design is very important in the transition to the circular economy as it’s the starting point for any product. If a product is designed well, with people’s health and wellbeing and the environment in mind, and if it is designed for disassembly, maintenance and reuse/recycling, then the materials used within that product will be able to keep circulating in closed loops for extended period of time. This helps to conserve natural resources and often reduces the product’s overall carbon and environmental footprint. This is increasingly important, as the global population continues to expand (towards more than 9bn in 2050), putting an increasing pressure on natural resources, the climate and the environment.
What would you say are the main things consumers should be aware of when buying a textile product and checking for its sustainability features?
· Does the product have a sustainability certification — either for raw materials (e.g. Oekotex) or the product as a whole (e.g. Cradle to Cradle — Cradle to Cradle certification is also awarded for individual components).
· Does the product include any recycled content?
· Does the product comply with chemical regulations (e.g. REACH in Europe)?
· Are any of the raw materials connected with major environmental issues such as water scarcity or deforestation?
· Is the product recyclable?
The key game changers for our industry in the future will be material transparency, defined material streams and closing the loop. These are points we have placed very highly on our agenda for the past decade through our commitment to the Circular Economy based on Cradle to Cradle® principles.
Which would you say it is the most advanced country for green design?
The Netherlands and Scandinavia produce many interesting sustainable designs. For example, graduates of Delft University often develop sustainable innovations, such as the young engineer who has designed a mechanism to capture plastic waste from the oceans (by harnessing tidal currents). In Sweden, they have just launched the first ‘self-charging’ road for electric vehicles. However, it is safe to say that sustainability within the flooring industry is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’, it is a must-have, and we strongly encourage this development.
Tarkett is present in more than 100 countries, including in Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America.
 Positively defined means all ingredients have been assessed as either Green (optimal) or Yellow (tolerable) according to the Cradle to Cradle® assessment criteria. As described in Cradle to Cradle® CertifiedCM Product Standard Version 3.1.
 In comparison with standard non-woven primary backing
 In accordance with the Cradle to Cradle® Certification Program Version 3.1