450 years – that’s how long plastic takes to biodegrade. Plastic waste is a long-term problem for our environment. That’s why we’re increasingly opting for recycled materials here at König + Neurath. The best example of this is our HUG.Y, office swivel chair, which is made of 65.5% recyclate. This helps us reduce landfill – but there are challenges too.
The way we use materials to make our office furniture and room solutions when we manufacture new products is uneconomical. So why don’t we use material that’s already available – for instance waste generated in our consumer society or during production processes? Recycling turns waste into useful resources – and it’s a crucial part of our circular economy.
Recyclate is simply recycled material. The clue’s in the name: recyclate is made up of the words “re” and “cycle” – in other words it’s made from material that has been re-introduced into the cycle. If we sort waste plastic, glass, paper and batteries by material type, it can be fed back into the circular economy and recycled. The rubbish is sorted, broken down, washed and then becomes recyclate. It can be melted down and made into something new. There are two types of recyclate: post-consumer, in other words the rubbish that lands up in our recycling bins, and post-industrial, so waste that is generated in factories, for instance from production processes. Where possible we use post-consumer recyclate at König + Neurath.
We have achieved savings of around 2 kg of CO₂ and 42 kWh of electricity by making the HUG.Y backrest out of a post-consumer recyclate compared with using primary material. We have published details of the materials used and their ratios in an environmental certificate.
Sustainability has many aspects, from working conditions to manufacturing. We aim for a circular economy in our production This means we invest in materials that are recycled instead of raw materials – a strategy that allows us to follow the European Union “Circular Economy Action Plan” or CEAP for short.
Our strategy prioritises working with post-consumer material – and if that isn’t viable we use post-industrial material. We only choose a new material if neither is possible.
However it is not possible to manufacture all parts from recyclate – sometimes for technical reasons and sometimes due to availability. We are proud that our HUG.Y office chair consists of a high proportion of recycled materials – 65.5 per cent. In addition to plastics, for which there are sometimes limits to the recycling potential, almost 100% of our aluminium is derived from recycled material – and the energy consumption for manufacture can be up to 95% lower compared with manufacturing that involves primary aluminium. For steel the ratio is still up to 50 per cent recyclate. But with such a high proportion of recycled material, the route to the finished product requires new approaches, and we face different challenges during product development.
Anyone working with recyclate will have to deal with limitations. For instance we are restricted in what we can offer in terms of colour. The reason for this is that the contents of the recycling bin is unlikely to be made up of pure white packaging, and the colour sorting won’t be perfect. Even a yoghurt pot usually has printing on it. So pure white recyclate is rare. We only offer HUG.Y in black because other colours, such as white, can be affected by colour variation. The other issue is that a recyclate does not have the same physical properties in production and processing as a new raw material. For example molten recyclate flows differently, which means we have to put more work into analysing flow behaviour and flow lines if we want to achieve a perfect finish quality. Furthermore recycled material often has different strength properties compared with primary materials. There are various reasons for this, for instance the glass fibres used for reinforcement are in some cases shortened during the recycling process. As a result we need more of the material to make the individual components.
Plastic can be recycled and reused many times. Our products are often used for ten years and more. When recycled, the plastic stays in the market for 20 to 40 years without needing to manufacture new material. We have “locked” the plastic away from the world for an incredibly long time!
There are challenges to overcome when you’re manufacturing quality products from recycled material. At the end of the day, what matters is that we’re continuing our journey towards the circular economy – and coming up with solutions that are not only ecologically sustainable, but also help to create inspirational working environments.
Click here to find out more about our commitment to the environment and sustainability policy.