Trends

State of the Industry – Plastics


11 Sep , 2018  

As much as we would love to, it’s hard to imagine a world without plastics. Regarded by most engineering communities as a top contender for the most important invention of the modern era, it’s entry saw the transformation of several industries and processes on a global scale – including the furniture industry. 

There’s a high probability that the chair you are sitting on right now contains a plastic component. However, beyond design, manufacturing costs and ergonomics, there’s a much larger issue that has the industry’s attention. The ubiquitous and purely synthetic material we so proudly invented over a century ago has proven to be a menace to our environment. The Earth’s inability to decompose plastics has resulted in disruption and harm to the environment and it’s critical natural processes. Added to that are the growing concerns about its harmful effect on human health and the food chain. 

The ban on plastic straws has probably been the most popular counter measure thus far. But it is certainly not the first. We spoke to several manufacturers to find out exactly what steps they are taking on their end. 

Herman Miller

A founding partner of the Next Wave Consortium, Herman Miller actively participates in an open-source initiative that brings leading technology and consumer focused companies together to develop commercial scale solutions for ocean-bound plastics. Each company has agreed to test the integration of ocean-bound materials into their products and to reduce source plastics across their operations and supply chain. “At Herman Miller, sustainability is an attitude that permeates every part of our business,” says Rachel Roberts, Marketing Manager MENA. “Designing for a better world is how we ensure Herman Miller’s impact on the environment remains true to founder D. J. De Pree’s vision.”

The manufacturer aims to create products that have a level of recycled material and recyclability. The Cosm Chair, for example, is 95 per cent recyclable and contains 58 per cent recycled materials. A Design for Environment team (DfE) has been mobilised to apply environmentally sensitive design standards to both new and existing Herman Miller products. The company is simultaneously partnering with designers who understand and work with Research and Development teams for new products to be mindful of their environmental impact.

Furniture Plastics
Cosm Chair by Herman Miller

Humanscale

This leading firm in ergonomic products has several programs in place that are geared towards sustainability and plastic waste management in general, starting with their manufacturing and supply chain. A little known fact about plastic manufacturing is the amount of water used during the process. Humanscale looks at the impact on a product’s environmental footprint during their Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to understand it in the context of their supply chain. 

To put it simply, this manufacturer aims to go ‘Net Positive’ – to create and execute activities that leave a greater positive impact than a negative one. An outcome of this is the Smart Ocean Chair, an embodiment of their commitment to sustainable manufacturing. Each chair is Living Product certified and incorporates almost two pounds of recycled fishing net material sourced through Bureo’s Net Positiva recycling program in Chile. In addition to preventing ocean plastic pollution, Smart Ocean features the same timeless design and functionality as the original Diffrient Smart Chair. Net Positiva is a collection and recycling program aimed at combating the detrimental effects of discarded ocean fishing nets. These nets are transformed into recycled nylon pellets used for manufacturing, thereby minimising the amount of plastic waste present in our oceans. “Being a Net Positive Manufacturer is not only about reducing harm, but about actively making a positive impact on our communities and the environment,” says Robert King, Founder and CEO of Humanscale.

Furniture Plastics
Smart Ocean by Humanscale

Interface

One of the leading manufacturers of modular carpet, Interface was also one of the first in the industry to create products from 100 per cent recycled nylon. An impressive feat considering over a decade ago, it was a task scientists deemed impossible. Today, nearly 58 per cent of all the material used to create Interface’s range of products ios recycled or bio based.

An interesting initiative is the Net-Works project, a partnership between Interface, the Zoological Society of London (a conservation charity), and yarn supplier Aquafil. This project involves working with fishing communities in the Philippines, Indonesia and Cameroon to collect discarded nylon fishing nets for use in the supply chain. Since 2012, over 195 tons of net have been collected, thus providing 1,700 families with a means of living. In December 2017, Interface joined NextWave, a consortium working towards keeping ocean-bound plastics within our economy and out of our oceans. 

On a design and specification level, Regional Director Matt Hall works closely with designers to ensure the right products are considered for these projects. “I make sure the design leaders and their teams are familiar with how recycled content can boost a project’s performance with certifications, such as LEED and BREAM, and choose products with a high level of recycled content.”

Furniture Plastics
Making a Net Positive Impact

Green Furniture Concept

Sandra Lundberg, Head of Marketing for this Swedish manufacturer of eye-catching public space furniture, explains how the company aims to reduce its usage of plastics down to just two components – plastic glides (recycled HDPE under their benches,) and charger outlet casings. “We’re looking to go beyond manufacturing and are on our way to implementing a ‘buy back’ option in our current business model, where we’ll be offering the possibility to send back used products to be upcycled into new.”. 

The company also uses a non-latex or plastic-free paint, called Rubio Monocoat Oil, that is based on natural ingredients with no volatile organic compounds (or VOC). They actively chose to work with as little plastic as possible, an easy decision considering they prefer living or naturally occurring materials. 

Furniture Plastics
Leaf Lamp Tree

Boss Design

“In addition to a global sustainability policy designed to reduce, reuse and recycle materials, Boss Design offers an ‘End of Life’ management program that aims to put our furniture to better use by supporting charitable activities and projects,” says Andy Watson, Export Director at Boss Design. “Any products that are not fit for purpose are broken down to component form and recycled”. Boss Design considers the whole life impact of their products and believes that they have a responsibility to ensure that chairs that are no longer needed not end up in a landfill. Furthermore, all products are carefully packaged to reduce waste, and the protective bags are completely biodegradable.

Furniture Plastics
Trinetic

Interstuhl

Interstuhl has an Integrated Sustainability Management Department that not only looks into minimisation of plastic use, but also how it is dealt with once it is leaving the production circle. The German manufacturer tells us that efficiency is more than mere economic success, and that efficient use of resources makes us work economically, socially and sustainably.

Interstuhl maximises the use of re-granulate plastic in their part production. The exact percentage varies but it is an effective way to introduce recycled plastic into the production system. Another point of focus is the procurement process, which features a recycling system in which packaging materials are re-used a number of times. They have increased their overall recycling quota from 84 per cent (in 1996) to 98 per cent in recent years. An impressive feat.

Silver by Interstuhl

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