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New Nordic collaboration ensures recycling of WC plastic cisterns

Annually, roughly 250,000 floor-standing toilets are replaced in Denmark with many toilet cisterns containing plastic. A new and unique collaboration between bathroom manufacturer LAUFEN and the Nordic region's largest recycling company Stena Recycling aims to ensure that approximately 87% of the materials from the collected plastic cisterns in Denmark can be recycled with an ambition for the Danish initiative to pave the way for a global roll-out.

Within the ceramic cistern of most new floor-standing toilets you will find the internal plastic cisterns. These internal sleeves were introduced in recent years to prevent condensation on the ceramic by eliminating the direct contact with the water and the ceramic. Yet this solution has led to another challenge; what to do with the plastic cisterns when the toilet needs to be repaired or replaced?

“Among other things, the high lime content in Danish water means that usually the plumber chooses to change all the internal spare parts when a toilet is defective – both to save time and to be sure that the problem is solved. Then the plastic cistern simply gets thrown out. So of course, it is better if it can be used in a new way instead,” says Anja Aabye, Sustainability Ambassador at LAUFEN Nordic, pioneer for the pilot project, which she now hopes to roll out throughout Denmark – and later globally.

A natural next step

By ensuring that the plastic can be recycled into new products, CO2 emissions are reduced. As a leading manufacturer of bathroom products, LAUFEN, together with the Roca Group, has joined the United Nations Global Compact, a worldwide pact between companies and the UN that aims to build stronger corporate sustainability practices and therefore has already implemented extensive initiatives across the business.

“The key to successfully affecting systemic change is to establish meaningful partnerships, such as this one between LAUFEN, Stena Recycling, the sheltered workshop and Saint-Gobain, in which all parties involved share the same vision and goals and, together, achieve something significant. This brilliant initiative put in place by LAUFEN Nordics will serve as a lighthouse project across our organisation, enabling us to increase our positive social and environmental impact, while also taking us one step closer to the circular economy,” says Cristiane Kopp, Sustainability Manager, LAUFEN.

This mindset is repeated not only at LAUFEN, but broadly across the construction industry. New certification rules for sustainable construction, increased focus on waste disposal and producers’ responsibility throughout the entire lifecycle of the products – are all part of a series of initiatives that will ensure a more sustainable future.

“Plastic, in particular, takes up a lot of thought for many people today. We all know about problems with microplastics on land and at sea. Therefore, the project also addresses something that most people know is a challenge. The installer sees it for themselves. The consumer gets an increased incentive to replace old with new. Everyone gets the opportunity to contribute to the development in a simple and manageable way,” says Anja Aabye.

Cyclical process and social economic perspective

  1. As part of the pilot project, LAUFEN has set up special collection points at 10 selected wholesale locations, where plumbers and installers can deposit old plastic cisterns they have replaced.
  2. From the wholesaler, the cisterns are driven to a sheltered workshop south of Copenhagen in Præstø, where, as part of a social-economic initiative, they are disassembled. To minimise transportation, a similar workshop in the western part of Denmark will be responsible for the area of Jutland.
  3. Stena Recycling collects the plastic cisterns, grinds and converts them into recyclable plastic pellets, which are then sent to Stena Recycling’s partners.
  4. Finally, plastic pellets end up at the plastic manufacturers, where it is once again included in new plastic products.

“The installers are happy, the wholesalers are happy, and we even have a socio-economic perspective in the pilot project, because we collaborate with members of a sheltered project who value their positive contribution. This may not be possible everywhere, and therefore we are now investigating how the concept can be scaled up effectively and rolled out in other countries,” says Anja Aabye.

From residue to resource

A practical challenge in the pilot project is the cisterns’ journey from consumer to recycling. Some installers go directly to the recycling centre, but more and more people sort their own waste. Therefore, LAUFEN now also aims to set up collection points directly with the installers which can also be utilized for end of life or phased-out products (EOL).

Stena Recycling is also enthusiastic about the project and is currently exploring the possibility to roll out the initiative across the Nordic region and Europe with LAUFEN.

“The various collaborations between Stena Recycling and LAUFEN are an expression of the transformation that is generally taking place in the industry. LAUFEN has a great desire to take the lead when it comes to recycling residual materials. We have the necessary knowledge and organization to translate old products into new ones. In this way, we share the task and there is a natural circularity,” says Stena Branch Manager Jakob Linnet.

Stena Recycling builds on decades of expertise in all material fractions: Plastics, cardboard, paper, metals, hazardous waste and batteries. With material experts, a nationwide branch network and a wide network of specialized partners at home and abroad, Stena Recycling has a high level of hands-on knowledge about how to ensure that resources can be used again and again. This is a huge advantage for companies that want to promote sustainable development and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. Rather than using the planet’s limited resources, companies partner with Stena Recycling to ensure that used materials are collected, sorted and processed, giving the materials new life in new products and solutions.

Stena Recycling and LAUFEN are already collaborating on several projects with green perspectives. Among other things, Stena is currently collecting surplus material from a large LAUFEN construction project in Jutland. It is precisely this mindset across the value chain – utilizing items that you cannot use yourself – that is also the basis for the pilot project on recycling plastic cisterns.