The virtuous circle: Partnering across the value chain for sustainable homes

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All too often, people think that once something has been thrown away, it ceases to exist. A century of that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality has left our planet fighting for its life. Decades of ‘throw-away’ culture have filled our oceans with plastic waste; it’s estimated that soon they will contain a ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. Meanwhile, in the US alone, greenhouse gas from landfill is responsible for well over 100 million tons of CO2 equivalent.

The challenges of weaning our economies from their harmful addiction to consumption and waste might seem insurmountable. But change is possible – and it begins in our own homes. The first step is to embrace the circular economy, a lifestyle in which we recycle and we re-use, as opposed to ‘taking, making, and discarding’. And already there are positive signs that this new approach, supported by innovation and underpinned by industry partnerships, is taking hold and starting to flourish.

Change is in the air

It’s now common for example to see soft drinks sold in 100% recycled bottles. And increasingly, toys, clothes, garden furniture, bags, skateboards and many more goods are also being made of recycled plastics. This is all welcome news but it’s only the start. Now the use of discarded rather than virgin plastic as the primary material is allowing people to opt for sustainable and circular solutions as they design their living spaces; we need to make those recycled materials a ‘must have’ feature of our homes.

As a society, we have already recognized the need for change. New regulations such as the EU Green Deal and “right to repair” laws, together with mounting consumer pressure are all driving positive change and encouraging sustainable transformation. But still barely 10% of all plastic is recycled; now we need to improve recycling infrastructure and use Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) content rather than virgin plastic.

A chance to clean up our seas

Excitingly, this new circular economy also allows us to tackle the marine plastics pollution crisis by recycling discarded materials for a wide range of high-performance electrical applications, including switchgears, connectors, and lighting. And that is a great way to ensure that plastic is not discarded but instead finds a permanent home. Quite literally.

The challenge is to ensure that these electrical components meet stringent safety and regulatory requirements. Switches and sockets for example have to comply with mechanical and electrical endurance regulations, including, in case of overload or short circuits, resistance to high temperatures.

Smart, sustainable homes are the beating heart of positive change

Fortunately, thanks to recent innovations, it’s now possible and safe to re-use a wide variety of plastics in such electrical devices. Working in partnership, Schneider Electric and DSM, for example, are pioneering the use of recycled plastics made from fishing nets. Every year, approximately 640,000 tons of fishing nets are abandoned in the oceans, killing countless marine animals and damaging our precious coral reefs.

To tackle these challenges, DSM has established an initiative in which these discarded fishing nets are collected, sorted, and repurposed into a new glass-fiber-reinforced, recycled-based polyamide with excellent functional properties. It’s called Akulon® RePurposed. This versatile, high-performance polyamide is used in a whole range of applications, including of course Schneider Electric’s products.

In this way, Akulon® RePurposed helps maintain litter-free beaches, healthier marine life and cleaner oceans. And crucially it also supports local livelihoods. After fishermen collect discarded fishing nets from the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and coastal corners of India, including the beaches, those nets are sorted and cleaned by local communications after which they are taken to an upcycling plant in Pune.

We all have a role to play’

The ambition is to achieve net-zero by adopting this holistic approach throughout our homes. By increasing our use of recycled plastics, we can help make that dream of smart, sustainable living spaces a reality. Now DSM and Schneider Electric’s partnership and our ability to innovate by thinking outside the box are enabling electricians and homebuilders around the world to use cost-effective equipment made from sustainably sourced materials rather than single-use, ‘throw-away’ plastic.

Circular economy going full circle

And let’s be clear: this circular economy solution not only cleans up our ocean and protects our planet, it also generates income for local communities. Our passion for a sustainable environment is driving positive social impact. The waters are cleaner, the marine is life safer, and the local communities are more prosperous.

Together, we can make ‘disposable’ culture a thing of the past. We can and we must. After all, we don’t want to throw away our planet’s future…Listen to “Climate Change with Net-Zero Homes” podcast between Helen Mets and YiFu Qi to find out how Schneider and DSM have revolutionized using recycled plastic in smart technology:

Know more on how Schneider Electric is transforming homes of the future!

Helen Mets

Meet the Co-Author: Helen Mets

Executive Vice-President Materials at DSM 

Helen holds a Master’s degree in Marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in Business & Finance from the University of Northumbria, Newcastle and CEDEP Fontaineblue in Paris. She is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Executive Leadership Program. She joined DSM in August 2017. In her current role as Executive President of DSM Materials, Helen Mets plays a crucial role in managing this DSM business and its continued drive toward sustainable growth. A lifelong innovator, she has built a track record of accomplishment in growing start-ups, engineering business turnaround, and developing opportunities in emerging markets.

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