Design has many aspects to it. Ease of recycling is just one. “There are enormous differences between recycling materials. How easy the material is to recycle, whether you can collect and sort it and then bring it back into circulation,” says Weis. This is why Freudenberg’s Vileda brand often uses thermoplastic polypropylene. And it’s also why since the 1990s the brand has avoided using questionable materials such as PVC. Often containing harmful plasticizers, PVC releases toxic fumes when incinerated. So, instead of PVC, for more than a decade broom bristles have also been made from a more suitable plastic – namely PET: “We tap into our network at Freudenberg and benefit from the Group’s knowhow in spunbond materials.” Microfiber cloths made of 100% recycled PET that have the same performance standards were also recently launched on the market.
“Just as important, however, is that the consumer understands how to dispose of a product,” says Weis. If the best recycled material ends up in the wrong trash, it’s of no use. In an international comparison, countries such as Norway, Sweden and Italy are better positioned than others and offer different waste trash for different plastics. “We put the issue on the agenda as part of our Fit for Circular initiative,” says Weis. In some countries, the information on the packaging has already been adapted to help the customer understand the legal requirements. But all the more crucial is that, wherever possible, products do not consist of composite materials. Put simply, it’s important to avoid combining different materials in such a way as to later on render them inseparable at the plant.
Freudenberg, for instance, has changed the material composition of the “Mocio” mop’s foil packaging. “The previous packaging was difficult to recycle,” says Weis: “In total, we accumulated 39 tons of material in a year.” The material now used, made of LDPE 30 micron foil, reduces both mass and weight to 22 tons – and, being a mono-material, is easier to recycle. A very impressive example of the enormous positive impact materials can have. As part of its commitment with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Freudenberg has also made a public announcement of its intention to make greater use of mono-materials.