This month, we’re putting the sustainable design spotlight on Interface, the global carpet tile manufacturer. Interface has been blazing a trail in sustainable business since the 1990s, when its founder, Ray Anderson, decided to revolutionise the way the company did business. He was inspired to move from ‘pillaging’ to protecting the environment by developing a new restorative business model and creating innovative, sustainable designs.

And so the Interface ‘Mission Zero’ commitment was born. The company aims to make no negative impact on the environment by 2020…and it’s making progress. In January 2014, Interface announced that it was operating with 100% renewable energy, using virtually zero water in its manufacturing processes and has attained zero-waste-to-landfill status. It has also reduced its carbon footprint by an impressive 90% since 1996.

According to the Interface ‘Design with purpose’ story, ‘design’ only applies to the surface of a product, but, the company says, for them it goes much deeper. It views design as a ‘mindset’, a way of continually innovating to exceed customer expectations. And of course, it aims for all its products to be sustainable while delivering great quality and performance.

Let’s look at an example of Interface’s approach to design in action. The Interface Net Effect collection of carpet tiles is inspired by the sea and manufactured using up to 81% recycled content, including recycled nylon fishing nets…

Discarded or lost fishing gear (including nylon fishing nets) account for some 10% of marine litter, according the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The nets drift for many years, ensnaring species including turtles, seabirds and marine mammals. They also damage ecosystems and gradually enter the food system. Clean-up operations are complex and costly. However, Interface spotted a business opportunity in addressing this issue, one that would also help local communities.

Working with the Zoological Society of London, it is collecting fishing nets on the Danajon bank in the Philippines, and building a commercial viable supply chain to transform this post-consumer nylon into raw material for new carpet tiles. The project, called Net-Works, gives the nets a value and therefore incentivises communities to organise beach clean-ups and avoid discarding nets in the first place. Local people benefit from an additional revenue stream, while Interfaces builds a restorative loop in carpet tile production and benefits financially by avoiding the need to purchase virgin raw material.

The Net Effect collection features six modular carpet tiles options with a design reminiscent of swirling currents, thereby connecting people with the emotions and memories they associate with the seaside, while evoking the Net-Works partnership.

To learn more about the Net-Works partnership, please click here.

We’re delighted to announce that MBA’s investors and joint venture partners have made a significant new investment in our business. We’ll be using the funds to improve our performance, and expanding our Worksop production capacity to 43,000 tonnes this year, with a view to reaching an annualised rate of 50,000 tonnes by December, an increase of 40% on our current capacity. We’ll also be creating 14 new jobs on site for people in the local area and extending our operating times from five to seven days per week.

“This is a great start to the year for MBA and it’s a real vote of confidence in our business,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “We consistently strive to improve the efficiency of our processing plants and this new investment will be instrumental in taking our performance to the next level.”

In particular, we’ll be able to increase the quality and consistency of our products by adding new blending equipment to cross-blend finished products. We’ll also purify our byproducts (such as rubber), raising the value of the materials to prospective buyers. Implementing more cost efficient processes will also help us to save time and keep manufacturing costs down.

Inside recycling factory

As we scale up and improve our operations, we’ll be able to recycle ever greater volumes of material, diverting more waste from landfill and delivering increased quantities of high quality recycled plastic to our customers. MBA will also be receiving a lot more automotive shredder residue (ASR) from February this year, when our JV partner EMR opens the UK’s largest recycling plant in Oldbury.

“As manufacturers seek to tackle raw material price volatility and reduce their carbon footprints, it’s vital that we increase the volume of high quality secondary raw materials in the marketplace,” continues Hunton. “Keeping materials in use for as long as possible also supports the development of a resource efficient, profitable circular economy.”

Reclaimed and recycled plastic

Sourcing recycled plastics can save up to 80% of CO2 compared to virgin plastics. MBA’s recycled plastic pellets are suitable for use in a wide range of applications and can be tailored to suit customers’ exact requirements.

The Restart Project is an exciting new social enterprise based in London, UK, that empowers people to repair and maintain their electronic goods. By keeping electronics in use for longer, the charity aims to help slow the avalanche of e-waste and reconnect people with electronics. Founded in 2012 by Janet Gunter and Ugo Vallauri, it holds community and workplace events across the capital, whereby people learn how to increase the lifespan of their electronic and electrical equipment.

With electronic waste now the fastest growing waste stream in the world, Restart says it wants to encourage consumers to buy for longevity, and move beyond the culture of constant upgrades and disposal. With laptops in Western countries typically being replaced every two years and mobile phones every 18 months, they have a tall order on their hands…

But their energy is infectious, and they’ve struck on something really interesting here, both in terms of bringing communities together and reconnecting people with products. In an increasingly resource-scarce world, consumers will need to get to grips with repair and maintenance, and projects like Restart are preparing the ground for this to happen.

The charity is being supported by the Transition Network, Unltd and Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme, and is reaching out to groups across the world keen to replicate its work.

For more on the Restart Project, please click here.

Leading plastics recycling firm MBA Polymers is lending its full support to the European’s Parliament’s plans to ban toxic plastics and introduce binding targets on recycling plastic waste. The EU’s renewed focus on recycling is a direct response to growing concerns over the detrimental effects of plastic waste to the environment and human health, and is intended to accelerate Europe’s journey towards a prosperous circular economy. Fully enforcing EU legislation on waste could save €72 billion a year and create over 400,000 jobs by 2020. Now, innovation and investment are needed to make this a reality, says MBA Polymers.

“With just 25% of Europe’s plastic waste currently being recycled, there is a significant opportunity for European businesses to increase their recycling capabilities and develop the infrastructure we need to recycle more plastics within our borders,” explains Mike Biddle, founder, MBA Polymers. “We have the technology to recycle complex plastic waste streams, but to harness its full potential, scale is vital. Innovation, strong policies and economic incentives are fundamental to growing the European recycling industry and transforming larger quantities of waste into valuable raw materials.”

Under the new proposals, 80% of plastic waste would be collected and sorted, with clear, mandatory criteria introduced to define which plastics should be recycled. In this way, the EU aims to phase out the landfilling of Europe’s recyclable and recoverable waste by 2020 and discourage incineration. Single-use plastic bags would be banned, along with hazardous plastics. MEPs also intend to take bolder steps to reduce Europe’s heavy reliance on exporting plastic waste to overseas recyclers.

“We welcome the EU’s stance on tackling illegal waste exports and preventing the dumping of plastic waste,” continues Biddle. “By developing a large scale, high technology and highly regulated recycled industry in Europe, businesses and consumers will have far more clarity on how their waste is processed. Currently, we have little visibility of how plastics are recycled in developing countries such as China, where reports abound of environmentally harmful recycling techniques. Recycling more waste in Europe would allow companies to take greater responsibility for their products, from design to disposal and beyond.”

MBA Polymers is supporting the EU’s drive to increase plastics recycling by maintaining a strong dialogue with the UK Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable. MBA CEO Nigel Hunton met Mr Cable in October 2013 to discuss how investment in the UK recycling industry could be incentivised. MBA is also calling for zero VAT to be introduced on products made from recycled plastics.

Through its investment in a high tech recycling plant in the UK, MBA Polymers has achieved a recycling rate above 70% for recyclable end-of-life vehicle (ELV) waste, proving the strong potential of advanced recycling techniques in waste reduction. Additionally, with the energy savings offered by high quality recycled plastics (recycled plastics can save up to 80% of CO2 compared to virgin plastics), manufacturers using secondary raw materials stand to reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

“We must work together to help the EU make their new proposals a reality,” concludes Biddle. “Businesses, politicians, NGOs and consumers have a real opportunity to collaborate and support the changes we need to ensure Europe’s future is based firmly on a thriving circular economy, where waste becomes a thing of the past.”

Our processing plant in Worksop, UK, has just received the first load of automotive shredder residue (ASR) from our JV partner EMR’s new recycling plant. The delivery of 20 tonnes of plastic is now being processed and will be transformed into high quality plastic resin for use in manufacturing. EMR opened its new Oldbury plant, which is the largest in the UK, in February 2014.

“This first delivery marks the beginning of an exciting new phase of expansion for MBA,” says Nigel Hunton, CEO, MBA Polymers. “We’re delighted to be working with our partner EMR to scale up our production capacity in the UK, and look forward to a steady stream of high quality feedstock from Oldbury.”

The news of this first delivery follows the announcement in January 2014 that MBA plans to expand its Worksop production capacity by 40% to 50,000 tonnes a year, with the support a multi-million pound cash injection.

Pictures from the 10 year celebration of the Guangzhou Iron & Steel Enterprises joint venture with MBA Polymers, an e-waste recycling processing plant in Guangzhou, China.

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MBA has won the prestigious Daniel Eberhardt Environmental Award at the 2014 Global Plastics Environment Conference (GPEC) in Orlando, Florida. The award is the highest accolade to be bestowed by conference organisers, the Society of Plastics Engineers, and recognises MBA’s 22-year commitment to recycling plastic polymers and raising awareness of the importance of tackling plastic pollution. MBA’s founder, Dr Mike Biddle, who gave a keynote address on ocean plastic waste, accepted the award on behalf of the company.

“I’m honoured to receive the Daniel Eberhardt award for our contribution to advancing plastics recycling technologies,” says Biddle. “Every step we’ve taken since we first started out has been driven by a desire to cut plastic waste from our world and transform it into high quality raw materials for use in new products. This kind of circular thinking is vital to conserving natural resources, preventing environmental pollution and ensuring a good quality of life for future generations.”

Biddle founded MBA Polymers in 1992 from his California garage, convinced that there must be a better way to deal with the plastic waste that clogs up our oceans and pervades our landscapes. The company has since grown to become a world leader in recovering post-consumer plastics from complex waste streams – including end-of-life vehicles and e-waste – and transforming them into high quality secondary raw materials. It can process more than 175,000 tonnes of plastic per year at its three high-tech plants in the UK, Austria and China, and works with some of the world’s largest manufacturers to close the loop by offering them a high performing, lower carbon alternative to virgin plastics.

“The award is all the more special because I knew Dan Eberhardt, the founder of MRC Plastics,” explains Biddle. “Dan was one of the first major mono-stream recyclers in the US, and well respected among the plastics recycling community.”

GPEC outlined MBA’s outstanding achievements for polymer recycling, technological innovation, impact and commitment to education among the chief reasons for its decision to present the company with the award. “MBA has gone beyond pioneering new technologies to become a true champion for plastics environmentalism,” says Susan Kozora, IAC Eng. Mgr/GPEC 2014 Chair, Society of Plastics Engineers. “In particular, Dr Biddle is an outstanding spokesperson on the topics of the circular economy and the need to reduce waste, protect our oceans and make the most of our resources. We’d like to congratulate him and his global team on a great achievement and wish MBA well as it looks to expand and increase its processing capacity.”

“Based on MBA’s relentless and un-matched commitment to recycling and environmental solutions for plastics, they are awarded the prestigious Daniel Eberhardt Environmental Stewardship Award,” said Dr. P. Subramanian, the Chairman of the GPEC Environmental Awards Committee and a Fellow of the Society of Plastics Engineers, commenting as he presented Dr. Biddle with the award.

The theme of this year’s GPEC was ‘It’s a green world after all’. The conference, held on 12th-14th March, focused on recycling, reclamation and bioplastics, and welcomed speakers from all corners of the plastics industry to discuss pressing challenges and present inspirational ideas and innovations. Other award winners included Ford, Coca-Cola and Dow Chemicals.

For more information on MBA Polymers, please click here. To hear Dr Mike Biddle speaking on the pressing need to recycle plastics, please click here.

Recycling polymers presents a significant opportunity to companies seeking to unlock more value from materials in their supply chains, reveals a new report produced by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and McKinsey. Entitled ‘Towards the Circular Economy: Accelerating the scale-up across global supply chains’, the report highlights a variety of opportunities for companies to make the switch from linear to circular business models, with particular emphasis on creating circular flows of major raw materials. The EMF estimates that the value to the global economy of transitioning to circular models could reach $1 trillion annually by 2025.

High potential materials

Polymers are singled out as offering ‘high potential’ to companies seeking to maximise productivity, reduce resource use and eliminate waste in global supply chains. They exist in high volumes and currently lack systematic reuse solutions, the report suggests. Additionally, separating different polymers from complex waste streams and transforming them into raw materials with the same quality and performance, is challenging.

Identifying polymers

Whereas the process for sorting metals is fairly straightforward, due to their distinct physical properties (such as density, magnetic properties, melting points or electrical conductivity), separating polymers is tougher as they have few differentiating properties. They do have distinct bonding features at the molecular level, but exploiting this means investing in advanced separating techniques.

MBA Polymers was cited in the report as one of the few players worldwide to have invested in industrial recycling processes capable of sorting certain plastic polymers. We offer high quality recovered ABS, HIPS, PP, HDPE and filled PP, for example.

The issue of polymer blends is highlighted too. These are currently sold on as mixed by-product plastics, as the contamination associated with blends almost inevitably results in lower material quality. The report also mentions the importance of good quality feedstock, which may itself require some sorting prior to arriving at a processing plant.

Collaborating with suppliers

Many companies, including Philips, Electrolux and Kingfisher, are working to streamline the volume of polymers they use and cut down on toxic chemicals, while maintaining product performance and complying with rigorous legislation (such as the EU’s REACH programme and the US EPA’s Toxic Substances Control Act). Some are working with partners to boost collection rates, once a product has reached end-of-life, and collaborating with leading recyclers.

For example, Kingfisher is creating its first closed loop product, a new power drill. Working with its drill manufacturer in China and MBA Polymers, the company is building circularity into the product right from the product design stage. It plans to use recycled plastics and establish a reverse cycle to collect end-of-life drills for refurbishment in Europe or recycling at MBA’s China plant, where the plastic will be recycled into high quality plastic resin for new drills.

To view the full WEF report, please click here.