Simplified Case Study of Recycling

#phenko nahi recycle karo

In a recent leap, BekaertDeslee launched a digital platform that can identify each mattress which has a BekaertDeslee cover with a digital tag which simplifies the process of recycling.

Last month, an incident as erratic as stirring made the headlines of many newspapers across the world. A Van Gogh painting was vandalised by two environmental activists wearing “Stop Oil” T-shirts. The move in all its absurdity did exactly as intended, draw attention to the immediate environmental crisis that surrounds us. As lengthy threads of heated back-and-forth unfolded on Twitter and elsewhere, certain people dotted on very keen observation. The T-shirts with their bold message seemed to be a product of fast fashion. An unignorable irony.

No doubt oil retains its title of being the most polluting industry. However, the textile doesn’t fall far behind. Yet our imagination often seems to start as well as end at the image of a fast fashion store or an extravagant ramp clothing when addressing the matter at hand. The mattress textile is often not the first image that takes over our minds. Nevertheless, its environmental impact remains notably radical.

BekaertDeslee, being one of the largest textile manufacturing companies specialising in ticking and jacquard weaving mattress fabrics, has been keen on finding a sustainable solution to curtail their environmental impact. In a recent leap, they have launched a digital platform that can identify each mattress which has a BekaertDeslee cover with a digital tag. The online resource gives away detailed information about the mattresses’ individual material and production through the tag, thus facilitating and simplifying the process of identifying, sorting and recycling the material at the end of its cycle.

A gutsy move in an industry that thrives on its unique recipe of material and processes for competitive advantage. Besides the potential direct impact it ought to garner, the move also comes as a push for other industry giants to embrace transparent circularity for the greater good of a circular economy. Read on as we unfold the case study to take an in-depth look at this initiative.

Understanding the problem:
Complexity of mattress textile recycling

The functions that a mattress textile is bestowed with are multi-layered (a pun with 100 percent factuality). Ensure intactness of all that it withholds, facilitate a comfortable surface that moderates a hospitable sleeping temperature, resist gems, allergens and other impurities, and retain all these qualities for as long as the mattress survives.

This sophisticated job profile explains the complex nature and form of the mattress textile, thus making it hard to separate and recycle. A simple example: Think about putting a composite textile with cotton, polyester, and elastane in a shredder – the stretchy, bonded nature of these fibres makes it hard to separate the materials. The moisture-rejecting coatings on mattresses are no help either, making it difficult to recuperate the materials.

Besides, they certainly end up in a landfill after approx 8 to 10 years. By then, it is hard to predict the condition they’ll arrive in and thus, depending on the kind of wear and tear they have endured, the components that are fit for recycling may vary. Hygiene check is also reliant on the type of material and process used during manufacturing. All of this lends the already complex question of mattress recycling to a very individualistic nature.

BekaertDeslee, being one of the largest textile manufacturing companies specialising in ticking and jacquard weaving mattress fabrics. To curtail their environmental impact. In a recent leap, they have launched a digital platform that can identify each mattress which has a digital tag. The online resource gives away the detailed information about the mattresses help sorting and recycling the material at the end of its cycle.

BekaertDeslee sees this as both an opportunity and a challenge. In a period of 8-10 years, recycling technology will have revolutionised drastically. This, they believe, tends for hopeful times but not without the ability of the company to adopt a futuristic approach, by anticipating the changes and altering today’s production accordingly. Design without a doubt plays an essential role here. As Charles Christiaens, Sustainability Manager at BekaertDeslee, stated in a recent interview with Ariniti: “We mapped the impact of every aspect of our operation, and found that our largest potential gains lie in becoming a circular operation” in spite of the challenges it brings.

Understanding the goal:
Transparent circularity led circular economy

Transparency sits at the centre of the overall concept of sustainability-induced circular economy, acting as a validating element to the process, if not a necessity itself. To be able to adopt various recycling, reusing and upcycling methods, there lies an inherent need to possess complete knowledge of the material and process involved in the primary production. Historically speaking, the focus of mainstream recycling has revolved around goods that are largely homogeneous in nature, for example, plastic bottles, glass, paper, etc. The lack of extensive material transparency has been an obvious roadblock.

Material transparency for industries like mattress textiles plays a vital role for other reasons as well. It not only empowers recyclers to find creative solutions and optimise the existing recycling technology but also widens the scope in terms of previously unexplored markets. Recycled materials whose compositions are fully known and accessible tend to have higher quality value and fetch better prices for the confidence they induce. This monetary incentive and the market scope itself can become a big driver to nudge the industry into a more organically circular direction.

According to a 2020 report from IBM and the National Retail Federation, 73 percent of consumers said traceability of products is important to them. Of those, 71 percent say they would pay a premium for it. Hence accessibility of transparent material information to all stakeholders is another vital aspect. This free flow of information is what empowers and encourages feasible movement for a circular economy.

BekaertDeslee: Background & Approach

With headquarters in Waregem (Berlin), BekaertDeslee is one of the world’s leading specialists in the development and manufacturing of mattress textiles, mattress covers and other sleep solutions. They undertake the large operation of producing volumes of advanced fabrics in 26 production sites all over the world. This also carries a great environmental impact, one that BekaertDeslee very well acknowledges and aims to curtail.

 In a recent interview with Ariniti, Charles marks how the management encourages their people on the floor to take initiative. He says “We use a bottom-up approach. I’m convinced that the people in our business units are much better placed than I am to see opportunities and estimate the cost & feasibility of sustainability efforts.” Adopting a similar approach, they are working with recycling companies and researchers to understand how they should prepare the products for recycling by the time their lifecycle ends, to understand the future needs of the recycling industry and take steps today.

Solution: Digital Tag & Platform

Starting this spring, BekaertDeslee plans to produce and sell mattress covers with an integrated and unique QR/RFID label linked to an online digital platform that transparently keeps track of the components’ information during the cover’s life cycle. This will let one access the individual material and production information on the platform without any hassle. When the mattress finally reaches the end of its cycle, recycling companies will be able to read the information through RFID to identify, sort, and recycle the cover through optimum processes.

Owing to the surety about the type and quality of the textile that the site provides, the recycled material will be able to find its way to the right manufacturers and back into the production cycle. BekaertDeslee is also looking forward to this initiative as a way for them to increase the volume of intake of their end-of-cycle mattress fabrics and hence, play a larger role in the transparent circularity model. Once brought back, they will let their recycling partners sort and recycle its components for them, before it is induced back into production. All of this facilitates better regulation of the process. A win-win situation!

Besides the recent introduction of the digital tag, BekaertDeslee has been in the process of optimising its overall design for a while now, as part of the larger transparent circularity model. The development of mattress covers that can easily be disassembled at the end of the cycle, without compromising their intactness throughout their lifetime, has been central to their smart design efforts.

A larger picture & Beyond

In the words of Charles, there lies a “responsibility to come up with a viable plan that goes beyond our own production process”. Hence transparent circularity forms part of the larger conscious mission of BekaertDeslee & Beyond. From finding a way to incorporate current products into a circular economy to innovating textile technology that can help reduce the ecological footprint, the initiative looks at penetrating into all the aspects of their operations to optimise them for a more sustainable and circular economy.

In terms of products, they have a special range of mattress ticking called the 2nd Life. The yarns are made using recycled plastic bottles collected from the ocean. This brings us to their other correlated effort called The Seaqual Initiative, an organisation that pays fishermen from the Spanish coasts of the Mediterranean Sea to collect garbage and bring it ashore. Each material, including aluminium, metal, glass or plastic, goes to its own unique recycling chain. Textile technology enables them to upcycle them into new yarns that are further used to produce mattress textiles and covers.

Then there is another range of Lyocell fibres called the Tencel that uses bio-fibres to maintain the environmental balance and integrate the fabric into nature’s cycle. The wood used for these fibres comes from natural forests on certified sustainably managed plantations. Right from pulp to fibre to yarn to fabric, all processes are controlled to result in eco-friendly products. BekaertDeslee has also launched a certified vegan range with respect to the wider public belief and demand. In the development and manufacturing of Vegan textiles and covers, no use of animal products, byproducts, or derivatives is involved, and products are not tested on animals.

Impact & Challenges and the resulting scope

The initiative of transparent circularity, in all its vigorous sincerity, backed by the resources and competence of industry giants like BekaertDeslee, still stands at a point where the impact can not be gauged just yet. To draw direct statistical lines between transparent circularity, recycled material, and furtherment of a circular economy or to say the least, circular industry, in itself poses a rather tricky venture. Yet the kind of validation and encouragement it provides to the bold move of making your product details accessible to all is evident.

What could really help us understand better the implications of this initiative is extensive and transparent reporting. Every product carries an environmental debt and that has to be audited and reported at a granular level. A recent amendment of the Corporate Sustainability Report Directive (CSRD) in Europe has introduced more detailed reporting and accessibility requirements, along with mandatory certification by an accredited independent auditor. Hence, the role of legislation can not be underestimated in regulating a transparent and circular economy in the case of the Indian subcontinent as well.

The EU has also introduced the concept of DPP (Digital Product Passport) to refer to the digital data associated with a product or material. A DPP would include formulation data, recycling and end-of-life instructions, and other product attributes. The goal of a DPP is to provide equal access to a form of universal digital data that can be exchanged without loss of information. Manufacturers and recycling facilities would ideally have a DPP for all materials in their product composition, providing the full visibility that circularity requires for its next steps. Though still in its initial stages, Toxnot’s Shared Materials platform is an example of what DPP would look like. Blockchain poses another possible technological solution for the management and safe access of this data.

Before even sophisticated technology, what truly lies at the core of the transparent circularity efforts is the shift in behaviour and norms of all stakeholders. As the name suggests, transparent circularity comes at the expense of a certain degree of vulnerability as one makes their product information accessible at a large scale. However, it is nothing compared to the fear that consumes our world if the current ways of mindless economic practices are to continue.

So yes, mass participation is the answer. It requires retailers, manufacturers and brands to be more collaborative, pooling knowledge and sharing innovation. At the end of the day, a transparent circular economy is an inclusive model which asks for something from everyone today but more essentially, promises a more hospitable earth for all tomorrow.

ISPF is an industry body which promotes importance of sleep and role of mattress for a Indian consumers. ISPF plays very important role in connecting Indian bedding industry ecosystem. ISPF also acts as bridge between India and international players.