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Circular innovation that gives you a warm feeling

Posted: 16th October 2020

If you’re concerned about the environment and ethical business, then Midlothian-based Sisaltech should certainly give you a warm feeling…

The company is breaking new ground in creating a natural, environmentally-friendly insulation material to keep homes warmer (and quieter) in a way that does not add to the production and use of plastics.

The company is bucking the insulation trend in using no oil or plastic in the production of their material, using instead the sisal fibre grown in East Africa and bought at fair price from small farming co-operatives.

And they are determined to re-use Sisal products, such as sacks used to transport coffee beans, to ensure their product is playing its part in creating a more Circular Economy and working with the Circular Edinburgh project.

A circular economy looks to keep the flow of materials and products within the economy for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them whilst in use.

The Circular Edinburgh project is supported as part of Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme, which will invest £73m in circular economy and resource efficiency projects, thanks to support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This programme provides funding and support for small and medium sized businesses in Scotland to be more resource efficient and create a more circular economy.

John Ferguson of Sisaltech said: “The majority of insulation products on the market are oil or plastic based and are themselves very carbon intensive to manufacture.”

“The base material of all of our insulation products is sisal, a highly sustainable fibre crop which is grown by small-scale farmers in east Africa.”

“ We buy sisal fibre from small farmers co-operatives in east Africa for a fair price, import the fibre in the lowest carbon way possible, then blend it with other circular economy fibres (recycled wool, recycled blue jeans etc) to create a much lower carbon product than any of our mainstream competitors.  In our ultimate circular economy product, the sisal is made into coffee sacks in Africa and used to transport the coffee beans to Scotland.  After the beans are roasted we then shred the sacks to create the base material for our insulation.”

“There are some other companies also producing natural fibre insulation products, e.g. sheep’s wool insulation, or wood fibre insulation, but they all still use a plastic-based binder to hold the insulation together.  We were not willing to follow this practice so developed our own starch-based binder as a more sustainable and fully biodegradable alternative.”

“Finally, when you are installing insulation you inevitably have off-cuts.  In the case of mainstream insulation products these go to landfill and can take 200-400 years to decompose.  Our off-cuts can go in your brown bin for industrial composting and in the longer term we are considering a way of our customers returning the offcuts to us to be shredded and recycled into new insulation.”

Sisaltech are working proof that the Circular Economy offers huge opportunities, both for start-ups and for established companies creating new and innovative products and services.

John added: “Providing you have company directors and managers who can think outside the box and are not totally stuck in their ways, then it should be highly possible for all sectors and businesses to sit down to think about their activities and what they could do differently.

“A good starting point would be to think about everything that comes in the door.  What materials are you consuming, how sustainable are they, were did they come from, and could there be a better and maybe recycled source”

“Then think about how you are processing those materials, it could be as simple as changing from using nails to using screws so that at the end of life a product can be disassembled into its component parts for reuse or recycling instead of going into landfill.  Think about your packaging.”

“And finally, when your product goes out the door are you saying goodbye to it for ever?  Do you really want to be the designer of a linear process where you have no control over what happens to your product at end of life?”

For further information please visit https://www.edinburghchamber.co.uk/circular-edinburgh/ or contact Mayan Grace or Lauren Ridgley on 0131 221 2999 (option 5) or email circulareconomy@edinburghchamber.co.uk

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Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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