Building with recycled plastics

Building with recycled plastics

Kirei, San Diego, uses about 60 percent postconsumer plastics in its acoustic paneling.

May 1, 2019

During the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ (ISRI) 2019 Convention & Exposition April 8-11 in Los Angeles, the Spotlight on Plastics highlighted some unique products that are starting to demand recycled plastics. Madeline Rohrbacher, territory sales manager Mid-Atlantic at North Carolina-based CaraGreen, said a number of building materials are starting to utilize recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET).

“These are alternatives to conventional building materials, trying to create alternatives in building design,” she said. “In the building industry, we see C&D debris being part of the overall amount of waste going into our waste stream.”

To combat the amount of C&D debris ending up in the waste stream, she suggested that both the building and recycling industries find ways to use more recycled materials in building materials. She highlighted some companies that are already doing this. One such company is San Diego-based Kirei, which offers ecologically responsible design materials for interior designers, architects and end users in North America.

“We are driven by a mission of ‘Do Well By Doing Good,’ which has helped us create memorable stories that introduce sustainability and the idea of healthy spaces to architects and designers across North America,” says John Stein, owner and president of Kirei. 

Recycling Today connected with Stein to learn why the company decided to use rPET for its products.

Recycling Today (RT): How did Kirei start business?

John Stein (JS): Kirei was started in 2002 to bring beauty to the idea of sustainability in construction by selecting beautiful, functional sustainable materials for designers to use in commercial interiors. I had a marketing background, working with many companies on developing their branding stories as a copywriter. I also had an interest in sustainability. So, when a friend showed me Kirei Board, I was intrigued with the idea of reusing a waste material for beauty and function. I helped to develop the story of Kirei and began to show the material to designers who immediately responded and added it to their projects. Since then, we have worked with a number of different products that all shared the same theme of sustainable beauty.

RT: What are products offered by Kirei?

JS: Ever since our inception, we’ve made it a core promise to represent products that are responsibly sourced, whether it be our Coco Tiles made from reclaimed coconut shells, our sustainably harvested Kirei Board panels or our EchoPanel acoustic material, which has helped rescue over 107 million plastic bottles from landfills and is recyclable at the end of life.

Photo courtesy of Kirei
EchoPanel acoustic panels

RT: Could you share some details about the EchoPanel product?

JS: EchoPanel is a collection of decorative acoustic panels, tiles, and wall and ceiling systems with a felt-like finish that help absorb sound in enclosed spaces, therefore reducing acoustic distraction. About seven years ago, I began hearing from designers that they needed acoustic solutions to the new problems created by open-office and open-design style had become so popular. I found EchoPanel, which had been on the market in Asia and Australia, but not here in the U.S. At the time, acoustic design materials generally did not have much aesthetic property, so the ability to have color and design flexibility was a real plus with EchoPanel—along with the recycled content and zero VOC nature of the material itself.

The product’s range of options in terms of thickness, color, pattern and form allows for a high level of customization. EchoPanel is made from recycled plastic bottles and is recyclable after use. To date, over 107 million plastic bottles have been saved from landfills and turned into EchoPanel products. The EchoPanel collection comes in neutral and vibrant colors, plus standard or custom design options to fit a variety of spaces and décor needs. EchoPanel is manufactured in Australia by Woven Image and distributed exclusively in North America by Kirei. Additionally, using EchoPanel can help commercial design projects qualify for LEED and other green building certifications for low VOC, healthy spaces and recycled content. 

RT: Has EchoPanel always used recycled PET content? What percentage of the PET in the EchoPanel is postconsumer?

JS: Yes. As acoustic design has become essential to great space design, the old standards of acoustic treatment—such as carpeted walls or drab fabric-wrapped panels—no longer cut it. PET felt has leapt into the spotlight as the ‘go-to’ material that absorbs sound while offering a new palette for both visual and acoustic design. Approximately 60 percent of the PET is postconsumer. The PET is sourced from worldwide recycling programs.

RT: How does having recycled PET help enhance the product? Why did you go that route with this product?

JS: Durable in nature, PET felt offers great acoustic performance and can be recycled at the end of its life. Most importantly, recycled PET helps our customers fulfill their desire to use earth-friendly, resource-friendly products. This aligns with the DNA of Kirei, which is looking to provide great-looking, functional [and] sustainable products.

RT: Did using recycled plastics create any challenges to the design of this product? If so, what were those?

JS: Recycled plastic has a different melting point than virgin PET, so experimentation was necessary to get optimized performance and a consistent product.