Centre of Applied Research Technology

From jeans to wall panel

AUAS creating economic and ecological value using textile waste

3 Feb 2020 09:50 | Centre for Applied Research Technology

Working alongside Ahrend, Sympany and Starbucks, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) used its RECURF and RECURF-UP! projects to examine how value could be created using discarded materials that were difficult to recycle, such as textile waste. They demonstrated that design products, such as tables and wall panels, could indeed be made out of textile waste. They also developed a circular business model to market these circular products with added value.

Various Amsterdam-based companies have textile waste that they are unable to reuse: Ahrend , for example, was stuck with cutting waste from its furniture upholstery workshops, Starbucks with the burlap bags used to transport its coffee, while Sympany was stuck with collected consumer textiles that were no longer wearable, such as denim. These products were previously processed into insulation materials and horse blankets or were even incinerated. Together with AUAS, the three companies went in search of a higher-quality repurposing objective for this residual flow.

NEW BIOCOMPOSITES

Within the RECURF project (2015-2017), the team examined various material combinations, including textile waste in combination with various bioplastics. Says project leader Mark Lepelaar, ‘This resulted in new biocomposites, especially suitable for the development of flat and shell-shaped interior applications, such as denim wall panels, coffee tables made out of jute and sound-proofing panels.’

CIRCULAR CHAIN

The follow-up project RECURF-UP! (2017-2019), saw the team carry out research into the material properties and the use of digital production techniques to manipulate the properties of the product in order to be able to manufacture both customer-specific and serial products. In addition, the team examined ways to make the entire chain circular, the result being: new materials with unique technical, functional and aesthetic properties. Compared to biobased plastics, these new biocomposites are stronger and more flexible, have higher insulation value, are better at soundproofing and have a higher and unique experiential value due to their unique look & feel. The material can be used for all manner of applications: from designer chairs to wall panels and eyeglass cases.

IMPACT

‘In addition to the development of new products from residual flows, we also wanted to generate impact and solve textile waste problem,’ Lepelaar explains. ‘That will take more than just technology. Businesses will have to innovate their business models or the way in which they create and maintain value with their products. This is why we developed a new business model that is circular, collaborative in nature and is scalable. At present, it has been applied to the RECURF biocomposite, but it is also definitely suited to other applications.’

CIRCULAR BUSINESS MODEL

A circular business model entails benefits both for the environment and for the end user. This means that the environmental impact of the new products resulting from the value created from the residual flows must be taken into account. This project sees textile waste being transformed into a designer product. However, after use, the materials in that designer product must likewise be able to be put to high-quality reuse. Each residual stream has its own value system.

OPEN COLLABORATIVE PROCESS

The business model is the result of an open collaborative process. This means that all stakeholders (parties, chain partners) are involved and that the business model must be interesting and of value to all parties involved. In terms of the collaborative effort as a whole, there needs to be something that offers added value to each party and which is viable in itself. At the same time, collaboration should result in sufficient gains for each individual party.

SCALABLE MODEL

‘Finally, projects with circular business models must be scalable. We primarily achieved that by focusing on the customer, rather than on the product,’ Lepelaar explains. ‘The supplier of the residual stream is also the buyer of the new product, which makes that party more the owner of the raw materials than the customer, leading to greater opportunities regarding purchasing and scalability. The textile waste provided by Ahrend, for example, resulted in acoustic desk panels, which proved to be very welcome at Ahrend due to the lack of privacy in the open-plan workspaces.’