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Recycling and reuse in design

Industrial design, like many other creative sectors that provide services, is constantly evolving and creating, adjusting to society's new needs.

However, this continuous process often culminates in the generation of waste that is not used. Today we are going to talk about recycling and reuse in design.


 

We start from the point that industrial design is one of the most powerful tools to implement societal changes through new products that introduce new practices. Thanks to the design we can, from improving the process of creating an element, with greater efficiency in production plants, to facilitating reuse and recycling at the end of the life cycle of a product, by carefully choosing the materials and the assembly involved.


However, we are also in an era in which reuse is crucial, trying to avoid the generation of uncontrolled waste that worsens the current climate crisis. This is why it is so important to consider new materials and to look at and pay attention to the researchers and pioneers at our side, who are discovering new ways to take advantage of waste or materials that we had never considered before.

 

Think before you throw away


The creation of new materials begins with a good look at the waste produced in cities, coming from sectors such as construction, full of materials such as glass, concrete, stone, bricks, cement, porcelain or ceramics; and also many other types of waste from other sectors, such as plastics, packaging, fishing nets, fabrics, leathers, other types of textiles, corks, paper, parts of obsolete equipment...


There is an infinite amount of waste that can be reused by thinking about how to do it. Once these wastes have been identified, it is necessary to think about how they can be used. There is already a lot of effort put into this mission, discovering the necessary technology to be able to create new products that come from the reuse of others.

 

Waste and technology: the perfect combination


Through the use of the right technology, existing materials can be transformed into new resources for the creation of products, without generating extra and unnecessary waste. In addition, it is a way of focusing on the use of local materials, instead of projecting needs abroad and generating more expenses and waste due to long transport. In this way, the circles of production and consumption are closed. Let's take a look at some real examples.


/Sustainable mortar made from waste

The hygroscopic mortar has been in the voice of the entire construction and design sector and has starred in the circularity of materials in Spain. It is a material made from locally sourced materials in Mallorca. It is composed of 85% recycled ceramic fragments and 15% white cement for stabilization. The product generated has drainage properties, helping it to filter water and reduce atmospheric humidity, and a high resistance that makes it suitable for construction and building.


Probetas de Mortero Higroscópico material sostenible
Hygroscopic mortar test tubes

Applications for the resulting material include pavements for pedestrian and non-motorized traffic areas, green areas, and as a sustainable alternative to asphalt in cities. Thanks to its drainage properties, it allows water to drain naturally back into the ground. The objective of the development of this project is to create a new material by reusing waste, in this case locally sourced ceramics, thus greatly reducing the carbon footprint.



This is a project promoted by Loop Disseny, a platform that encourages the development of sustainable projects, with multidisciplinary teams, in order to promote connections between companies and raise awareness of circularity.


/Cellulose waste to produce sustainable materials

Innovation, research, and technology allow us to tell you about another material made from the reuse of waste, in this case, cellulose. This is Honext®, a completely natural material developed in Spain from cellulose waste. It is totally focused on its subsequent recycling and has high performance which makes it an ideal material for construction.


The manufacturing process of this material starts with the identification and classification of the different cellulose residues, according to their composition. This generates the raw material and ensures high quality and consistent properties at all times. The next step consists of a naturally occurring enzymatic treatment that serves to process the cellulose, generating more stable bonds that give the material mechanical properties. Subsequently, it is mixed with sustainable additives and pressed, forming the board, pending drying. This last step in the generation of Honext® consists of evaporating the water by means of heat and air.

This material is designed to be fully recyclable and rejoined at the end of its useful life to the process of generating more boards, being totally circular. Thanks to its properties of non-toxicity, acoustic insulation, thermal insulation, moisture resistance, flexural strength, and lightness, it is a valid material for interiors and cladding.


/Endless possibilities with discarded plastics


Undoubtedly, recycled plastic is the material that most companies are focusing on to develop sustainable products. By 2022, there are between 75 and 199 million tons of plastic polluting the oceans that could potentially be recycled and reused with the right work, research, innovation, and vision. However, only 9% of the waste manages to be recycled.


The potential for reusing plastic through the right processes is endless. More and more companies are launching collections within their sector, be it fashion, IT, or construction... of products made with non-compostable remains from the oceans. Today we are going to show you some of the most outstanding projects in this sector.


Microsoft launched at the end of 2021 a mouse made with plastic from the oceans, in a cry to the so-called negative carbon footprint. Although this electronic component has only 20% recycled plastic in its casing, still far from other projects, it represents a big change for the company, initiating a shift towards sustainability in its corporation. To date, the packaging of their products was single-use plastics, and after the realization of this, they have developed paper and cardboard packaging, betting on sustainability, competitiveness, and development of the company.

Ratón de plástico reciclado Microsoft
Microsoft recycled plastic mouse

Another major pollutant of the oceans is the fishermen's nets that are lost in the depths, which are made of Nylon, so that they cannot biodegrade but remain sunken and lost for years, polluting. However, large communities in countries such as the Philippines, which are dedicated to fishing as a livelihood, have joined forces and have turned to the search for these nets for recycling. One of the main purposes is to create new products from nylon fishing nets.


Nylon reciclado alfomrba diseño de producto
Econyl® Carpet - 100% recycled Nylon

Aquafil is a company dedicated to this process, which consists of regenerating Nylon fibers and converting them into a new material with high-quality properties and presentations: Econyl®. One of the main products created with this material is carpets that look like pieces of art to decorate homes. These carpets are created with a total composition of Econyl® fibers.


There are many other proposals that address the consumption of recycling and reuse of plastics and those cover sectors such as fashion, interior design, industrial design, or packaging, using both fully recycled materials and new biomaterials that help to replace the consumption of plastics and that we will tell you more about later.


How to reuse textile waste?


Another polluting sector is the textile sector, not only because of its production, which grows exponentially year after year but also because of its recycling, since discarded clothes end up forming large mountains of waste, due to the fact that the production chain of this sector grows faster than that of its recycling. While it is true that clothing in domestic environments has a very circular life cycle, there are garments that end up in the waste garbage can without being properly recycled, due to the lack of knowledge of recycling in the textile sector. In addition, there are also companies that produce fashion following fleeting trends, and that do not include adequate recycling processes in their production chain. It is estimated that 70% of textile waste can be recycled with a correct sorting process. However, to date, only 2% is recycled as it is a sector in which a lot of effort still needs to be made to reach the right technology. There are initiatives to combat this environmental crisis, which seek the most effective way to use these wastes to create new materials. Even so, the basis for significant progress is open collaboration and investment in research and resources.


Recover is a Spanish company founded in 2006, which is dedicated to the recycling of fibers from textile waste to generate new materials for the production of clothing, thus closing the production circle of this industry. In 2014 it took off with its own recycling process worldwide. This process consists of cutting large pieces of material into small fragments from which those that are not purely textiles are removed in an automated way. These fragments are subjected to treatments with low water and energy consumption and without polluting chemical components, to form the fabric reels of material that will later be woven, and ready for packaging. They produce 100% recycled cotton in a process that saves carbon emissions and energy and water consumption by up to 14,000 L per KG.


Wood residues function as a resource


Many wooden objects for both everyday and industrial use end their useful life by being discarded, when in fact there are many initiatives for their reuse as a resource and new material. The biggest drawback we face with the consumption of wood is the felling of trees and the elimination of flora and fauna from ecosystems. One of the best-known processes is the recycling of wood to generate new boards, prolonging its circulation and favoring the ecological transition. These boards are much cheaper and easier to produce, saving on the drying process, using the higher quality chips for the boards themselves and the lower quality chips as a source of fossil fuel.


Material sostenible origen natural pino probetas y bobinas
Tamara Orjola

There are other projects that go further with a more innovative character, such as that of Tamara Orjola, a Russian designer who has researched the use of the needles that are generated and discarded from the felling of conifers. These represent between 20 and 30% of the total mass of the felling and are not used in any process. In this research Tamara concludes that it is an ideal resource to generate numerous types of fibers that can be used for textiles, composites or fibers for the production of objects... The process requires first crushing all these needles into small fragments and then subjecting the whole to water and drying, followed by pressing to obtain a dry and rigid material that can be converted into test tubes or bobbins of yarn.


Taburete y panel acustico diseñado con materiales sotenibles
Tamara Orjola

The result is a beautiful material that can be used for decorative pieces, such as carpets or acoustic panels for offices, as well as for seating or other decorative elements.





 


We see that there is a lot of waste that comes from products that we stop using and end up being part of the ecosystems, polluting. However, we have seen that there are many innovative ways to recycle all this waste by creating materials that are a trend in design.


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