Could this MDF recycling innovation solve a circular economy conundrum for retailers?
A breakthrough technology that recycles medium-density fibreboard (MDF) can deliver a commercially-viable process to recover wood fibre from the material, according to the solution's creator.
After six years of research and development, MDF Recovery claims to have produced a "world-first" solution which could offer a much-needed alternative to landfill or incineration for waste MDF products.
MDF material is notoriously difficult to recycle because it is a composite of wood fibre and adhesive, which can be hard to separate. More than 50 millions tonnes of MRF are produced worldwide each year across the furniture, construction and DIY markets. Britain alone disposes of around 350,000 tonnes of MDF each year.
But with this new technology able to seperate the composite, the recovered wood fibre is of the same high quality as virgin wood fibre and can therefore provide a feedstock back to the manufacturers of MDF board, insulation products and formable packing materials.
MDF Recovery's managing director Craig Bartlett has confirmed that discussions had begun with a number of leading businesses with a view to adopting the technology in the next few months.
“The recycling process we have developed is a genuine world first,” Bartlett said. “There is no other environmentally-friendly alternative to the use of landfill or burning to dispose of MDF waste.
“Our technology can be retrofitted or designed into new plants and offers a robust solution for reworking waste and increasing the yield at the MDF manufacturing facility. Zero waste production is now a real possibility. The financial payback is dependent on the size of MDF plant, but in larger plants is expected within 18 months.
“The technology can also process industrial and commercial forms of MDF waste, allowing manufacturers to take back material from their customers – a so called ‘closed loop’ solution.”
According to MDF Recovery, the technology will be particularly attractive to the retail sector, which utilises significant amounts of MDF in shop fittings. The company estimates it could recycle between 30,000-60,000 tonnes of MDF waste in the UK each year, and almost three million tonnes globally.
The new technology has been viewed positively among industry experts, who suggest the creation of a recovery method for the hard-to-recycle material could help accelerate the shift towards a resource-efficient, circular approach in the built environment.
Speaking to edie about the technology’s potential, a spokesperson for construction firm Saint-Gobain, which includes a portfolio of brands such as Jewson, Artex and British Gypsum, said: “The construction industry needs to be more sustainable, and reducing waste to landfill is an important part of this.
“Putting in place closed-loop solutions where we can capture and reprocess previously unusable ‘waste’ materials and bring them back into future use is something we strongly favour. This avoids landfill and, in many cases reduces processing emissions. We are ourselves investing in closed-loop investigations in many of our product streams, for example in glass.
"We don’t ourselves know a great deal about the particular technology or processing that MDF Recovery has been trialling, but we do very strongly favour innovations that can help the construction industry to reduce its environmental footprint and move, more quickly, towards closed-loop operations.”
Echoing these views, Richard Gillies, former sustainability director at home improvement retailer Kingfisher, said: “From memory, there wasn’t anywhere to recycle MDF and it was always very difficult to get rid of in the right way – it was just going straight to incineration or landfill. I haven’t come across this new solution before, but of course anything that drives us towards a circular economy in this area is fantastic."
A spokesperson for Kingfisher declined to comment on whether this is an avenue the company had explored, but did suggest that MDF Recycling's solution was “very interesting”.
edie's innovation month
The month of January sees edie shift the editorial spotlight to green innovation, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to celebrate the very best of emerging clean technologies and low-carbon systems.
Change will not happen without genuine innovation and so this month will explore the bleeding edge where change is really happening. From emerging tech to new business models; breakthrough approaches and creative leaders, we’ll shine the spotlight on the real game-changers and sort the facts from the fads.