Recycling is considered one of the key factors in a sustainable economy – and the same is true in the interiors sector. A whole series of pioneers equipped with a sense of idealism and an instinct for future markets are producing innovative products with recycled components. PET bottles and old fishing nets are just two examples of the materials they work with.
Upcycling is very much on-trend today, and sustainability is generating more buzz than ever before in interior design. But this trend is now about much more than natural latex and flea-market romanticism. On the contrary, in the contract business and on public building projects in particular, green furnishings have joined green building on the list of decisive factors for commercial success. Smart companies are specialising in this niche market and have sophisticated technologies and competitive products to convince buyers.
It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but plastics are also a natural resource. What’s more, supplies of their raw material, petroleum, are limited. Plastics recycling therefore offers two immediate advantages: it reduces waste mountains and environmental pollution, and it conserves limited supplies of petroleum.
For example, what happens to the PET drinks bottles that are crushed at collection points in supermarkets, aside from creating a noise to set teeth on edge? New bottles, t-shirts, fleeces … and now seat covers and furnishing fabrics. The contract furniture manufacturer Brunner, based in Baden-Württemberg, uses a cover fabric made from 100% recycled polyester for many of its products.
First, polyethylene terephthalate bottles are chopped up, ground, melted and then processed with a flame-retardant additive to produce a flame-resistant polyester thread. The new fabric is called Revive and is produced by the renowned Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat. From a distance, the new cover fabric appears monochrome, but up close, a subtly structured pattern, designed by the British designer Georgina Wright, can be detected. The cantilever chair ray (design: jehs+laub), first presented at ORGATEC 2014 in Cologne and a recent recipient of the Red Dot Award, is now also available with a cover fabric made from recycled plastic bottles since the start of this year.
Smart specialist textiles are also leading the way in residential interior design. As far back as 2009, Christian Fischbacher, an exhibitor at Pure Textile for many years, launched a fabric that began life as PET bottles with his Benu PET collection. The yarn in this fabric is spun with a flame-retardant additive to produce a polyester yarn. The addition of a nanotech finishing provides a hydrophobic surface that liquids such as water or wine roll off in beads without penetrating the fabric. According to Christian Fischbacher, up to seventeen 500 ml PET bottles are recycled to weave a metre of this sustainable fabric. Trade fair visitors can expect yet more fresh inspiration in 2017 at Pure Textile, the platform for leading fabric houses at the international interiors trade show imm cologne.
But recycled fabrics are playing a key role beyond seat covers and other decorative home textiles. A number of pioneers in carpet manufacturing are taking a decisive step towards cradle-to-cradle design with recycled plastics. The ideal is for products to be fed back into a circular economy, creating a continuous cycle. After use, they are reclaimed and serve as the raw materials for new processes, with the objective being to eliminate almost all waste.
A specific example of this idea is a technology that processes old Nylon 6 yarns from discarded carpets into a new material. Old fishing nets are also recycled in this process. After the nets have been cleaned, broken down into parts, sorted and crushed into small pellets, the factory processes them into textile threads that are made into Econyl yarn. The added bonus: the production process now uses more waste than it creates.
Many of the recycled nets are recovered from the sea by divers, a laborious process. But the effort is well worthwhile as discarded nets often cause tremendous harm. Each year more than 300,000 seals, dolphins, whales and marine turtles die painful deaths in the abandoned nets floating about in the oceans according to estimates by the Healthy Seas initiative by the textile industry (including Aquafil, the manufacturer of Econyl) and the ECNC Group, a Dutch NGO.
The recycled Nylon 6 material is now available from a number of manufacturers in the form of high-quality carpet tiles. These include the Dutch companies Interface and Desso, which will be presenting their new products at ORGATEC 2017 in Cologne (25–29 October), the thinking being that modern worlds of work call for smart solutions – not just in the organisation of work, but also in responsible design of work environments.