In addition to looking back in time (up the supply chain) for a recycled material, a manufacturer also should be looking forward in time by designing the next application of the product. More specifically, the product should be assembled in a way that also facilitates easy disassembly of components for recycling.
Beyond that the manufacturer also should collaborate with other organizations (including manufacturers or suppliers that could use the material in the future, governments managing recycling systems, haulers and processors of recycled materials, companies that provide “reverse vending machines” (RVMs) to collect used packaging, and others) to promote the collection and reuse of the material in an application that allows it to be recycled yet again.
MBDC client Shaw Industries has done this successfully and designed a truly “carpet-to-carpet” closed loop system. Shaw carpet tile (right) is designed so that the infinitely recyclable EcoWorx backing and Eco Solution Q nylon fiber can be shredded and separated at end-of-life for recycling in separate streams and then later recombined into new tiles, Shaw also labels each carpet tile with a toll-free number for customers to call and have used tiles picked up for recycling.
Reaching beyond recycled content requires a manufacturer to understand a material’s previous use and potential for contamination, design the next use to maintain the material’s recyclability, and help enhance the system for recovering and recycling the material after its next application.
In the end, sustainability cannot be judged by a product alone or a recycling system only - the two are inextricably linked and should be designed to work together as effectively as possible. As more and more manufacturers step up to the challenge of both improving their material formulations and developing closed loop systems, we hope to see many more sustainable solutions being showcased at the next World Cup in 2014.
Tish Tablan is a project manager at McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) and has focused on enhancing public understanding of sustainability issues for the past eight years. Steve Bolton is a senior consultant at MBDC. He has been working on environmental and sustainability issues for over 15 years, assisting companies, nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions.
MBDC is a global sustainability consulting and product certification firm founded in 1995 by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart. MBDC assists clients in implementing the Cradle to Cradle design framework.
Images: World Cup jerseys - Courtesy Nike; Eco Intelligent fabric - ©Victor Group, Inc. Used with permission; Shaw carpet tile - ©Shaw Industries Group, Inc. Used with permission.