How can the industry lead in the circular economy? Material and product passports are just the beginning

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Tarkett produces some 1.3 million square meters of flooring every day for hospitals, schools, houses, offices and stores. [Oshuma/Shutterstock]

Until recently, few businesses would advertise environmental principles like recycling and re-use, but now it is commonplace for them to brag about their ability to cut waste. At Tarkett, we have long believed in doing our little bit to make a difference for the planet, writes Myriam Tryjefaczka.

Myriam Tryjefaczka is Tarkett’s EMEA public affairs and sustainability director.

We are proud to say that we put in place measures to track the source of our products and materials years before we had even heard of the term ‘the circular economy’. And we feel that our system of material and product passports can inspire sustainable industry practices and show how businesses are responding to the European Union’s environmental challenges.

It was just over three years ago that the European Commission unveiled its Circular Economy Package (CEP) of waste and recycling laws. The good news since then is that Europe has begun its journey to close the loop of design, production, consumption and waste management.

At Tarkett, the circular economy is more than just a buzz phrase. We can see that global trends – from population and emission growth to resource depletion – are straining Earth’s vital systems. Our future depends on using and reusing what we have in a sustainable way. This is a particular responsibility for those of us in the construction industry, which traditionally uses vast resources.

We are serious about our environmental commitments. We believe that we should not just preach about green principles, we should practice them. We apply circular principles to the materials we use in our business, including energy, water, raw materials and more.

For example, 70% of our raw materials do not contribute to resource scarcity, being abundant in nature, rapidly renewable or recycled. And we are, of course, also aware of the carbon impact in our operations.

Our approach on the circular economy is to be as open and transparent as possible on the quality of the materials that we use in our products. By transparency, we mean the disclosure and communication of the chemical content of materials by suppliers and component manufacturers along the supply chain, including to consumers and waste management actors.

This information – about the product, its chemical composition, and the health and environmental risks associated with it – should be available throughout the entire lifecycle of the product, particularly for construction products, which can last for decades.

Tarkett produces some 1.3 million square meters of flooring every day for hospitals, schools, houses, offices and stores, in materials like vinyl, linoleum, carpet, rubber, wood, laminate and synthetic turf. And yet we can trace all the substances we use throughout their material lifecycle.

This is essential if we are to control exposure to substances of concern, deliver safer products and ensure consumer confidence. It is a major prerequisite for a circular economy.

This principle of material and product transparency is gaining support at EU level. There is an increasing consensus on the need for information for both consumers and waste operators. It is spelled out in the EU’s 7th Environment Action Plan, and in the Council’s 2017 conclusions on eco-innovation.

Last year’s European Commission Communication on the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation identified the lack of information as an obstacle to assessing whether materials are safe and fit for purpose. And last September, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for greater material transparency and that, “a product passport should be introduced as a tool to disclose materials and substances used in products.”

At Tarkett, we have gone beyond compliance with existing EU regulations to introduce what we call a Material Health Statement (MHS).  More than a simple list of ingredients, an MHS accurately describes the composition of a product and provides information related to ingredient concentration (chemical molecules), their role in the product, and any health or environmental risks in case of exposure to these substances, notably for the user of the flooring and for those who install the floors.

It is based on an independent assessment of our materials by the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA), the organisation that manages Cradle to Cradle® assessments. 98% of Tarkett’s raw materials (representing more than 3,000 materials) are third-party assessed by EPEA for their impact on people’s health and the environment based on Cradle to Cradle® criteria.

The MHS complements the overall Environmental Product Declaration – which is a summary of the overall product environmental impact. Our experience shows that material and product passports like the MHS can help turn the circular economy into a reality.

We urge the EU to support these transparency tools. It is a message that Tarkett will be taking to the 2019 Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference in Brussels on March 6-7, and to the G7 Alliance for resource efficiency workshop in Paris on March 20-21 (“Tools making value chains more circular and resource efficient”).

A true circular economy is a system designed to restore itself. It is a win-win. It is not only good for our people and the planet, it also makes business sense too. At Tarkett, we don’t just believe in the circular economy. We practise it.

Myriam Tryjefaczka will be speaking at the 2019 Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference in Brussels on March 6, in the panel ‘Global Leaders in a Circular Economy’.

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