Circular Economy opportunities in the Composite Industries

line white
29 October, 2020

Fibrex Co. SRL have identified opportunities for implementing circular economy solutions in the composite industry that will significantly reduce their environmental impact, as well as the amount of waste materials that they produce.

The company was founded in Romania in 1997, and it currently employs 146 people, reporting an annual turnover of 3.5 million euros. Fibrex manufactures and sells items made from composite materials in three areas of activity:

  • Bathroom items, bathtubs, shower trays and shower cabins. With a range of more than 200 type dumensions.
  • Composite material components and parts, especially for the automotive industry.
  • Glass fiber reinforced polyester fiberglass articles: monoblock pools, mini-polls, reservoirs and septic tanks up to 100 cubic meters.

The challenge of reducing the industry’s environmental impact

The cutting phase is the penultimate process involved in manufacturing bathtubs, and this phase alone produces 10 tonnes of waste every single month. The majority of this waste is fiberglass mixed with organic resins, a material that has to be incinerated and it is the company that has to bear the costs of both the transportation and removal of this waste.

One part of the manufacturing process is bathtub reinforcement, which uses LDF (low density fiberboard). Fibrex came up with the idea of implementing a circular solution in which they would convert their waste into the internal reinforcements that are required when manufacturing these bathtubs.

This project was selected by C-Voucher’s Circular Economy Programme and this gave the company the opportunity to obtain a special purpose machine that converts their waste into thermoform materials that can then be used to produce the reinforcement structures. The solution that they came up with will result in considerable savings in terms of resources, and, likewise, it will improve the efficiency of their production given that they will no longer have to use LDF materials, meaning that all of the waste that is produced will be processed as part of a circular solution instead of being incinerated.

Why is it important to implement circular economy in the composite industry?

Fibrex has two main reasons for wanting to drive this change. Firstly the need to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing processes and reduce costs. According to the environmental legislation, the company is responsible for any costs involved in waste disposal and they also have to assume the additional cost of purchasing the LDF panels.

Secondly, the incineration of fibre glass waste mixed with organic resins is the least desirable solution. This process burns the organic resins, however, unless the temperature is high enough, the fiberglass still remains. This increases future costs as this waste cannot be used as a raw material for the production of glass, therefore meaning that it ends up in a landfill.

How is C-Voucher helping them to implement this circular solution?

In addition to the economic support that they received, Fibrex would also like to emphasise the help provided by the resident designer, which was invaluable both in terms of the commercial and technical aspects of the project. They really appreciated the designer’s open-minded and proactive attitude as this enabled them to resolve any questions or problems that they had.

All of the parties are aware that a circular solution has to be both economically and environmentally sustainable. Therefore, thanks to this experience they will be able to implement similar solutions in the future. Fibrex is already beginning to work on ways in which they can reintegrate other waste (plastic materials) in their production cycle.

The COVID-19 crisis has had an impact on the company as they have been forced to reduce their number of employees, as such, they are fully aware of the importance of cutting down on costs and reducing material waste, essentially doing more with less. Without a doubt, automation, digitalisation and the implementation of circular solutions will be the key to their success