Recycling paper, glass and plastic is an inherent part of our daily lives – we understand the meaning behind it. Instead of felling, transporting and processing renewable raw materials such as trees in order to obtain paper or cardboard, we collect and recycle waste. Non-renewable raw materials, such as plastics made from fossil fuels, can be recycled in the same way.
But what exactly are the advantages of recycling and how can emissions be reduced?
According to a study carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute, recycling plastics reduces emissions by more than 50% compared to the use of new granulate made from crude oil. Recycled plastics therefore make a significant contribution to climate protection. To calculate this figure, a Life Cycle Assessment is drawn up that shows all the emissions occurring from the extraction of the raw materials up to the product’s end of life.
The results show not only that climate-damaging emissions are reduced through the use of recycled plastics in comparison to crude oil, but also that the consumption of primary energy per ton of regranulate1 is around 21,000 kWh below the comparable figure for new granulate.
The potential to reduce emissions and thereby support climate goals is high. This process often takes place without any loss of quality – such as in the case of nylon. This durable material can be repeatedly returned to the production cycle and, through regeneration, be processed into a secondary raw material whose many previous lives are not apparent.
It is precisely these qualities that make nylon so interesting for Interface. For many years we have been supporting the development of nylon and polyamide yarns that frequently have a recycling rate of 100%.
Recycled vs. recyclable
In the long term, it makes sense to use products that are not only made from recycled material (or other environmentally friendly e.g. bio-based materials), but are also recyclable at the end of their life. This is the only way to create a closed cycle that will enable the economy to become independent of non-renewable raw materials.
Unfortunately, it is still generally the case that recycled materials are in a downward spiral and are not all re-used to the same extent. Instead, they either drop out of the recycling cycle or they lose quality due to their texture, with the result that for example new non-recycled raw materials have to be added constantly.
The use of bio-based and recycled materials is an important part of reducing the carbon footprint of our carpet tiles. On average, 60% of the materials used by Interface for the production of carpet tiles are recycled or bio-based. As a result, since 1996 we have reduced the carbon footprint of our flooring products by 74%. Innumerable additional measures were necessary to achieve this figure, including improving energy efficiency in production plants, optimising the materials used and reducing the weight of the carpet tiles. The use of recycled polyamide yarn represents one of many stages in the journey towards our goal to create a climate fit for life for future generations.
What contribution can you make?
In order to be able to make sustainable purchase decisions and avoid emissions as a consumer, companies have to take the first step and invest in the development of products that pollute the environment as little as possible and which can be returned to the production cycle.
How can I recognise sustainable companies and recyclable products?
Often it is difficult to distinguish ecologically reasonable from less sensible products, and to understand whether or not a product can be recycled.
As an example, some of our Interface products have been Cradle-to-Cradle certified, a label that among other things assesses the recyclability of products. Our efforts in this respect have been acknowledged by assignment of the Gold level. But there is more to sustainability than labels and prizes.
Look behind the scenes, ask questions, be direct.