Corporate Responsibility - 28/09/2020

Innovation paves the way for plastic recycling

Is it possible to recycle polyurethane, a versatile plastic material, and turn the waste product into a valuable resource instead? 

In a close cooperation between the Danish Technological Institute and a number of Danish companies, ECCO being one of them, an innovative cross-sector consortium has set out to find the answer to this – and the first results are promising.  

Polyurethane, also known as PU, is an indispensable plastic material which is used in a variety of products, ranging from insulation materials, mattresses and shoe soles to components in wind turbines and life-saving medical devices. More than 16 million tons of PU is used annually, a figure which is expected to increase rapidly in the future.

Despite the high value of PU compared to other plastic materials, only few methods for recycling PU are known today. And the current methods result in a recycled product of a lower quality and value.  

Part of a circular economy 
Like many other businesses, ECCO uses PU in our products, because the material allows us to make shoes that excel in quality, craftmanship and design. So to ECCO, RePURpose is a very tangible way of using innovation and cooperation to pave the way for a more sustainable lifecycle of PU.  

”In 2019, when we decided to join RePURpose, it was one of many initiatives from our side to reduce our impact on the environment through innovation. We realise that our activities leave an environmental footprint, and we have an obligation to minimise these effects. Do we have an alternative to PU for our production? No. We don’t. We are exploring alternatives, but no other material can give our shoes the same characteristics. And even those that come close, do not have a better environmental profile. So instead, we concentrate on what we can influence now and make our knowledge and people available to develop a method to make PU recyclable,” explains CEO Steen Borgholm. 


Two technologies

Specifically, there are two tracks to RePURpose, named ReUSE and ReCYCLE. ReUSE focuses on redirecting waste from the manufacturing of PU into new products. ReCYCLE will entirely deconstruct PU from end-of-life products into its original chemical building blocks. This means that the original properties and, importantly, the original monetary value, is restored.

”PU is an incredible plastic material – but a significant recycling challenge. Solving the challenge of moving PU into a circular economy will ensure the future of this important material. Developing innovative ReUSE and ReCYCLE technologies will not only create monetary value but also unleash completely new business models for our consortium partners. The close collaboration of the dedicated and experienced partners in RePURpose provides the ideal setup to make a real difference for future PU recycling,” says Anders Lindhardt from the Danish Technological Institute, PhD in Organic Chemistry and project leader of RePURpose. 

The project, which launched in 2019, will continue for another two years. Once the project is completed, the participants who will have put thousands of hours into the project hope to have identified a future proof method for eliminating PU waste. 

You can find more information about the project here: 

About ECCO 

ECCO is one of the world’s leading shoe brands, combining style and comfort. ECCO’s success is built on top-quality leathers and innovative technology. ECCO is a highly responsible company that owns and manages every aspect of the value chain from leather and shoe manufacturing to wholesale and retail activities. ECCO’s products are sold in 101 countries from over 2,250 ECCO shops and more than 14,000 sales points. ECCO is family-owned, founded in Denmark in 1963, and employs 25,500 people worldwide.