Companies are increasingly looking for circular-economy approaches to design — and use — durable products that can be reused or recycled at end of life.
Noble Environmental Technologies says its technology is helping customers do just that: recycle their waste streams into new building materials for reuse. And the company says it can partner with virtually any business to help it close the loop while reduce its manufacturing costs and waste produced, reports Environmental Leader.
Starbucks, for example, could recycle coffee grounds and commercial waste and convert it into materials used to build stores, furniture and packaging, the company says. And Walmart could recycle all of its retail store paper and cardboard waste and convert it into home décor, furniture products, retail shelving and displays, officials say.
Noble Environmental says its building material product, called Ecor, makes these scenarios possible and profitable. It was a finalist at the annual World Economic Forum conference at Davos, recognized for enabling the circular economy and a Dell Circular Economy People’s Choice Award nominee. The company says Ecor is the future of green building and sustainable design.
Ecor, developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is made from 100 percent recycled material. It’s made from fiber-based waste — office paper, cardboard, recycled denim and other fabrics, hemp, jute, sugar cane bagasse, corn husks, wood dust and trimmings, among others — and can be engineered into a variety of shapes for different applications. The company describes it as a sustainable alternative to wood, composites, aluminum and plastic. The product itself is also 100 percent recyclable.
“We call it a fiber alloy,” Noble Environmental’s Jay Potter said in an interview. “The fiber alloy is like your fingerprint. Every single company we encounter has a waste stream, and that waste stream is unique to them. And every company has a need for building materials, for their own use or making into products such as furniture or something else. Whether its in their building or products, we can design a unique fiber alloy around their needs.”
Panels are priced between $3 and $24 per square foot.
Google, Whole Foods and Toms Shoes are among the companies using Ecor — Whole Food has used Ecor for signage, Google used Ecor for wavy interior panels and Toms’ for shoe hangers. The company says it will soon announce a new customer, “a leading global brewer,” that will convert its spent brewers grains, paper and cardboard waste into a range of Ecor materials, which will then be used by the brewer and its vendors to produce their retail graphics, point-of-purchase displays, commercial packaging and perhaps even the six-beer bottle boxes.
“The brewery has to replace 15,000 uniforms a year, and 85 percent of those are 100 percent cotton — just wonderful fiber,” Potter said. “Unlike a pair of jeans, which someone might wear again, nobody wants a soiled uniform. It has very little opportunity for reuse. Same thing with the brewery’s off-labels. They might have little pieces of glass in it, or some glues that recyclers can’t deal with. We take any fiber that we can cobble together to make an alloy.”
The company says in addition to helping businesses reduce or eliminate their waste, using Ecor also provides a competitive advantage. The product is lighter, which means it costs less to transport. It’s also 30 percent denser than medium density fiberboard, which means it is more durable and will last longer.
Ecor contains no toxic adhesives, additives, formaldehyde, or off-gassing and has virtually zero airborne volatile organic compounds.
Potter says it also costs less than it’s conventional counterparts. “There’s a big MDF (medium density fiberboard) project in Northern California that’s going to cost $300 million — we could build that same factory for probably $75 million.”
Lux Research analyst Jerrold Wang told Environmental Leader that Ecor is a good example of a circular economy approach.
“The use of waste material not only achieves sustainability but also enables low raw material cost or even negative cost,” he said.
But Lux Research doesn’t consider it an alternative to wood, composites, aluminum and plastic
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