The first London development sessions of the ReDisCoveR Project commenced this week, at iMeche’s London HQ, bringing together like minded OEMs, Tier 1s, SMEs and academia to look at finding solutions for the recyclability of composite materials.

These sessions allow companies, often with vastly different agendas, to engage in a dialogue and healthy debate that might otherwise remain in-house. At Tuesday’s session difficult questions were asked and hotly debated, in a generous and open minded way, enabled in large part by the manner in which the events have been led by Lucy Eggleston and Leah Rider from the National Composites Centre, who have delivered the project with energy and focus since its inception last year.

It is clear that we all mean something different when we talk about circular materials. These debates almost always start with a conversation about thermosets versus thermoplastics, and support the status quo that composites equals carbon/glass fibre and epoxy or thermoplastic resin systems. Talk of recycled carbon, bio resins and natural fibres is still met with a raised eyebrow and consigned to the ‘well that would be nice but it won’t meet the performance criteria we are looking for’. Yet there have been cutting edge developments in all of these sustainable options, often by SMEs and entrepreneurs who are still able to take a leap of faith, make mistakes and subsequently discoveries, that are then fed sporadically into OEMs from a position much lower down in the food chain.

What is the criteria by which a composite can be called sustainable? The reasoning of an aerospace company is different to the reasoning of an automotive company, and their perceived need for bio based, or recycled and/or recyclable products is also vastly different, and in many circumstances driven by legislation over and above internal policy.

It is important to understand the needs of each different sector to see how best we can educate and drive uptake of new truly circular materials. It is even more important that we think beyond the needs of industry, and better understand the needs of our planet on which these industries function. After all it is the next generation that will be buying these products and they have already ‘woken’ up, and are influencing and changing why consumers are choosing certain products and/or services, and what sort of future industrial landscape they hope to live in.

If we can extrapolate backwards, and avoid promoting small gestures that still allow continued development of materials which are damaging to the environment, difficult to recycle and end up in land fill, we may well start to see a greater sea change in big company philosophies, heavily influenced by the current eco aware younger ‘maker’ generation.

Europe has been forging ahead with recycled, natural fibre and bio resin products for years. It’s time we caught up.