The recycling and resource management firm will back the technology’s proprietor MFD Recovery as it takes its design to the commercial market after more than six years of research and development.  

MDF Recovery recently concluded proof of concept trials to develop a commercially viable process to recover wood fibre from used or off-cuts of MDF. The company claims the technology offers a “word-first” alternative to landfill or incineration for waste MDF products.

SUEZ technical development director Stuart Hayward-Higham said: “We are delighted to make this investment to continue assisting with the development of MDF Recovery’s ground-breaking technology.  The technology should literally give a new prolonged shelf-life for MDF, one of the most popular materials across the construction and furniture industry from large-scale commercial projects to the army of shelf-fitters and DIY carpenters up and down the country.

“Zero waste production for the wood component of MDF is now a real possibility. This is the perfect fit with SUEZ’s commitment to delivering practical, environmentally responsible and innovative waste management solutions. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with Craig [Bartlett] as he moves into the commercialisation phase of this industry first technology.”

Robust solution

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 million 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.

MDF Recovery’s solution generates a new secondary material source for the wood/natural fibre industry that displaces the need for new virgin materials and comes at a time when demand for virgin timber from many other sources is growing. The company estimates it could recycle between 30,000 to 60,000 tonnes of MDF waste in the UK each year, and almost three million tonnes globally.

SUEZ and MDF Recovery have previously worked together on an Innovate UK project which focused on introducing a closed loop recycling option for waste MDF, allowing manufacturers to take back material from their customers. A pilot plant was established and is currently being used to optimise the process and host demonstrations for industrial end-users.

MDF Recovery co-founder Craig Bartlett said: “The SUEZ investment provides a significant boost to MDF Recovery in our quest to commercialise the technology to make single-use MDF a thing of the past. The recovered fibre produced by the process is of the same high quality as fibre obtained from virgin wood and can be used as a direct substitute in the manufacturing process.

“The MDF Recovery technology can be retro-fitted or designed into new plants and offers a robust solution for reworking waste and increasing the yield at the MDF manufacturing facility.”

Potential customers

Bartlett confirmed that the business is already in discussions with a number of potential customers and partners within the industry. According to Bartlett, the technology will be particularly attractive to the retail sector, which utilises significant amounts of MDF in shop fittings.

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 recently 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.”

edie’s Resource Management Month

March is edie’s Resource Management Month, with a series of exclusive interviews, features and podcasts running throughout the month to drill down on the most effective ways of driving a resource revolution.

From recycling and recovery to closed-loop solutions, our Resource Management Month will explore the various ways businesses can help to deliver an economy that has moved away from ‘take, make, waste’ to a circular economy-based model based on resource efficiency, re-use and redistribution.

Read all of our resource management content here.

George Ogleby

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