“Making a product circular can be done in a lot of different ways”
“The first kilo of recycled plastic, we used it in a vacuum cleaner. That was in 2009. Since then, we have reached a total of more than 2 million kilos per year, for both medical equipment, personal health care and household appliances.”
The technical developments in the field of recycling are going fast. But for Mark-Olof Dirksen, things could go even faster. He is a specialist in selecting and developing materials in a technical expertise group. Based in Drachten, this group works with teams from all over the world to make Philips’ products even more sustainable.
Currently, 15 percent of Philips sales consist of circular products and services; by 2025 this must be increased to 25 percent. A ‘circular product’ does not necessarily mean that recycled materials are used, according to Mark-Olof: “You can do circular production in two different ways: from recycling and for recycling. Some products can be made from recycled plastic, and we are doing that more and more often. But that is not always possible, because recycled plastic is not yet suitable for some applications. In that case, products can be designed in such a way that they are easy to recycle after use.”
Repairing is also sustainable
Part of this is in the modular construction of a product, so that parts are easy to disassemble. But it’s also important that repairs can be made easily: “For example, consider something simple like replacing a battery. In recent decades we have seen more and more products on the market that do not allow the replacement of a battery by the consumer, like a smartphone. If we could do that ourselves, as consumers, then a product would have a much longer life.”
The Senseo Eco is a leader in recycled plastic: “Three quarters of all parts that are not directly in contact with water and coffee are made of recycled plastic. The parts that are in direct contact with the water and coffee, those are the most difficult. But there too we are looking for solutions.”
The idea of a Senseo Eco arose in collaboration with a waste processor: “We collected electronic waste together at the time, which still contained a lot of recyclable plastic. We extracted ABS from that and used it to make Senseos.”
Handbook of the circular economy
The project was not only subsidized by the EU, but even became a European example of circular economy: “We bundled our experiences and knowledge in a book, PolyCE-E-book-Circular-Design-Guidelines, with guidelines. Think of it as a kind of manual of the circular economy; how can you make a product by making optimal use of recycling? We won a European recycling prize with it, and we were allowed to present it to vice-president Frans Timmermans of the European Commission. He then incorporated the project into his Green Deal. That was really something to be proud of.”
With the Senseo Eco project we won a European recycling award, and Frans Timmermans received our book. That was something to be really proud of, though.
Senior Projectlead Advanced Developments
This project shows Mark-Olof that recycling companies are becoming increasingly important as partners to a manufacturer like Philips. “My first job was at a company that specialized in recycling. When I later started at Philips, I was able to take much of what I learned there with me. Recycling companies process waste and therefore have a lot of expertise that we can use to make our products circular.”
According to Mark-Olof, it is a misconception that recycling materials is the most sustainable option: “You also have to look at the lifespan, because if a product lasts longer, you are less likely to have to buy a new one. The possibility to repair is very important. And then you start looking at reusing parts, because a functional part always has more value than the material it is made of.”
A good example is large medical equipment, such as MRI and CT systems. “The higher the residual value of a product, the more interesting it becomes to reuse parts, also known as refurbishing.”
Although developments are moving fast, for Mark-Olof personally it’s all not going fast enough yet. “Circular economy is a game changer, and that kind of radical change is, by definition, slow. It’s a matter of making changes from one generation to the other, rather than from one product life cycle to the other. And at Philips we are still an industry leader when it comes to recycling.
But we can set the bar even higher by asking our customers to return used products. Because only in this way can we maintain control over the entire chain and achieve higher targets in the area of circularity. That is why we work together with the WeCycle Foundation, which, among other things, provides information at schools and organizes collection campaigns.”
But we can also set the bar even higher, by asking our customers to return used materials. Because only in this way can we maintain control over the entire chain and achieve higher targets in the area of circularity.
Senior Projectlead Advanced Developments
We can also still make strides when it comes to using renewable plastics, such as bio-based, chemical recycling and solvent-based recycling, in addition to mechanically recycled plastics. These are not only good recyclables, but they also make us independent of oil. If we do that, and also design all products with Design for Recycling guidelines, then I am convinced that we can scale up our ambitions even further.”
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