TIME TO START
MAKING THE ROUNDS
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CIRCULAR TARP MOVIE
Camera/Edit: Elias Bötticher
Media release – Zurich, June 1, 2022
FREITAG sends the tarp of the future on its first test run
FREITAG is working with various industrial partners to develop a truck tarpaulin that, even after a long second life as a FREITAG bag, doesn’t end up in the garbage but back in the cycle. Research is in progress with various material combinations, each with its own unique advantages and the potential to meet exacting demands in terms of circularity and robustness. Something that only a short while ago was considered a big idea is being put into action: The very first prototype of a circular tarp is now into its first round of testing by being mounted on a small truck.
Just under two years ago, FREITAG initiated the development of a new kind of tarpaulin that would fully meet circularity criteria. Like the bags that would one day be made from it, the new material would not be merely recycled but also endlessly recyclable. And that means the tarps must first withstand the harsh conditions encountered on Europe’s transit routes. Subsequently, like their predecessors, they will be used as the source of unique, durable FREITAG products. But at the end of their days as bags, they shouldn’t have to be burned. The idea is that they should be broken down into their basic constituents and used again to create new items.
For its venture into the industry upstream of its bag-making business, FREITAG has strengthened itself internally with materials experts and circularity specialists. We found a wide range of interested industrial partners with knowledge of materials, chemicals and composites. And then we brought them together at a round table with the German EPEA's circularity experts and long-standing partners from the tarpaulin business. At this phase of the project, FREITAG saw and continues to see itself mainly as a matchmaker and spiritual co-driver of the great tarp revolution.
Like a conventional tarpaulin, the new circular version will consist of a robust fabric with a water- and dirt-repellent coating. What precisely these two components will consist of is the all-important question. First and foremost, the new tarp will have to withstand the rigors of being on the road. After that, it must be possible to revert it to its basic building blocks and reuse them to make something new. As the project unfolded, various development approaches with different partners and combinations of fabrics and coatings emerged. These were further developed, tested, discarded and supplemented by the parties involved.
Currently, we have four promising sub-projects for a circular truck tarp on the big roundtable, all at widely differing stages of development:
- THE (AS YET SMALL) MONOLITHIC VERSION
Together with a partner who develops trims and materials for FREITAG, we are working on a tarpaulin made of PET. The goal – and also the main technical challenge here – is «monomateriality»: in other words, a tarpaulin that comprises only one material and can thus be recycled at the end of its life cycle without the need for the costly separation of fabric and coating. «This is not just an elegant solution in theory, but also an attractive and cost-efficient approach to recycling», says Bigna Salzmann, Circular Technologist with FREITAG, who is looking forward to the arrival of the first prototype compounds in Zurich very soon.
- THE BIO-BASED VERSION
Collaboration with the German Fraunhofer Institute, the Linotech company and tarp producer Heytex has resulted in the development of several bio-based tarpaulin prototypes. However, the compounds of bio-based synthetic fibers with a coating of starch-based plastics are not yet sufficiently advanced to be successful during a test drive on a truck. «A tarp made of renewable raw materials would be a huge step towards a greener future, not just for the transport industry», says Anna Blattert, likewise a Circular Technologist with FREITAG, who hopes to hit upon a suitable bio-based compound soon.
- THE POTENTIALLY REVOLUTIONARY VERSION
While the first two tarpaulin projects are not yet advanced enough to have been tested by EPEA’s circularity specialists, a third option with a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) coating has already passed the materials health safety test. «As a chemicals company, we provide the basis for thousands of products and see it as our duty to speed up the transition to a circular economy. That's why it was immediately clear to us that we wanted to be involved in such an interesting cooperation project as FREITAG's right from the start», says Mark Scheller of Covestro, which, together with tarpaulin producer Heytex, is the main driving force behind this sub-project. At present, the TPU coating material is still being tested with a fabric made of PES (polyester). Since it may well be several years before PES/TPU compounds can be separated, the project team is working in parallel on an entirely new, revolutionary tarpaulin structure that could easily bypass this hurdle. «It's all about the tarps of the future. We are grateful to be part of this project because it fits with Heytex's sustainability strategy. Joint development with other industry partners helps us to get an overall view of the entire value chain, and that’s essential if we are to have a future based on circularity», says Henning Eichhorn of Heytex optimistically.
- THE GAME CHANGER
A significant step forward is the fourth and most recent development, which, to be strictly accurate, is more of a discovery: During the research stage, the project team came across a material that a Dutch company, Rivertex, had already developed. In this material, the fabric and coating are made of polypropylene, which ranks as one of the most sustainable of the petroleum-based plastics. The Rivertex developers likewise joined the project team and agreed to have the circularity of their product tested. «We’d been working for years on a robust, attractively priced and recyclable alternative to tarpaulin. So, naturally, we were delighted when the EPEA's Product Circularity Passport certified that our product had the highest levels of material health and recoverability. We firmly believe that our next generation of products will be even more suitable as truck tarpaulins, not least as a result of the findings from our test runs», says Roef Gaasbeek of Rivertex.
It is, of course, a long stretch from a tarpaulin to a truck tarp. Which explains why Swiss tarp assembler Bieri came to be involved. They printed the designs on the Rivertex material, attached the straps and fitted it with eyelets so that the potential tarp revolution can also be firmly mounted on the small truck. So, now it’s making its rounds on the roads, come sun, wind or acid rain. This will show us how well the polypropylene material holds up as a truck tarp: whether it becomes brittle too quickly, for example, and not least whether and how well the tarp lettering adheres. This is vitally important not only for the haulage companies, but also for FREITAG. Because ultimately, one day, the tarps will be used to make the company’s much-sought-after unique bags.
BEING THE FASTEST DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN BEING FIRST
At this point it is impossible to predict which of the four sub-projects and which materials will one day result in the first commercial, circular truck tarp. Perhaps there will be more than one alternative to the existing PVC tarp. After all, many highways lead to Milan, and at the moment no one knows which of them will be the fastest and cheapest way of getting to Rome. «While higher circularity may speak for one development approach, a lower material price may be the main argument for another», explains Anna Blattert, putting the current status of the various sub-projects into perspective. The know-how currently being gathered from the first prototype will soon benefit the other developments, as these are also being driven forward at full tilt. Parallel to this, discussions on suitable circular business models and processes are being intensified. Ultimately, we must ensure that the recyclable material at the end of one life cycle finds its way into the next and that the innovative circular tarps remain in an endless cycle instead of ending up in the trash.
FREITAG is very much looking forward to these next stages with its fantastic project partners and to many more successful test rounds. We can hardly wait to take apart the small prototype tarps and send them out on their test rounds as recyclable FREITAG bags in the next cycle of their lives.
More information: www.freitag.ch/circulartarp
Media release – Zurich, September 30, 2021
NEXT EXIT: CIRCULARITY
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FREITAG INITIATES CIRCULAR TRUCK TARP VENTURE
Zurich’s bag makers have had enough of half measures and cycles. So, in the future, to ensure their tarp bags aren’t merely recycled but are also endlessly recyclable, FREITAG is venturing outside the bag universe to work with selected industrial partners on the development of a truck tarpaulin that fully meets circularity criteria. FREITAG is looking forward to closing its own material cycle soon, and helping to make European road freight traffic just that little bit greener.
We think and act in cycles: it’s been FREITAG’s corporate philosophy for more than 25 years now. «Today, we’re focusing mainly on how we can give the road transport industry upstream of us a circular material. That would also enable us ourselves to act in endless cycles», specifies Daniel Freitag. In the case of textiles, FREITAG has already achieved this pioneering feat with a 100% compostable clothing line called F-ABRIC, which it developed from scratch.
After five to ten years on the road, and as part of FREITAG’s core business, truck tarps are given a new, long lease of life as bags. This is further extended by repair services and an online exchange platform. But at some point, even the toughest bag gives up the ghost. And when that finally happens, it’s down to the last exit to the garbage incineration plant. «In Zurich, this at least generates a bit of district heating for our tarp bag-making headquarters», says Markus Freitag. “But we’d doing one better, of course, if we could give discarded truck tarps not only a second life, but an everlasting one.”
A little over a year ago, FREITAG decided to set the wheels in motion and start developing a new type of tarpaulin that would meet strict circularity criteria. The envisaged material would, of course, be just as robust, durable, water-repellent and practical as the existing one made of PVC. Instead of ending up in the trash, the new tarp would eventually end up in a biological or technical cycle, which means that one day it will biologically decompose or be broken down into technical constituents from which new tarps or other products can be made.
As part of this quest in an as yet unknown area, FREITAG has now filled the internal role of «Circular Technologist» twice over. Using contacts such as trucking companies and tarpaulin assemblers from the company’s everyday operations, the project team trawled the tarp supply chain in search of interesting and interested partners who could bring the required expertise regarding materials, chemicals and composite to the table. Together with companies and institutions in the fields of circularity and materials testing, the resulting heterogeneous collective of highly motivated partners brings a flexible, goal-oriented, multi-track approach to the tarpaulin revolution. FREITAG’s role in this could best be described as that of a provider of ideas, inspirational force or spiritual co-driver.
Pretty soon, it became apparent that even a new circular tarp would be constructed similarly to existing materials. It would consist of a robust fabric and a soft, water- and dirt-repellent coating made of a synthetic or organically based plastic. The big question, then, still is: How can these two main components be broken down – jointly or separately – into their constituent parts and reused or composted? The collective has already found some partial answers to the question in possible materials and various compounds.
To ensure that each manufacturing step and chemical component genuinely meets circularity criteria, an innovation partner, EPEA – Part of Drees & Sommer, evaluates them using the Cradle to Cradle® method*. «By placing such an uncompromising demand on the concept of circularity, we are not exactly making things easy for ourselves», says Anna Blattert, one of two Circular Technologists employed by the Zurich bag manufacturers. Nevertheless, the team already has initial material prototypes – combinations of different fabrics and coating materials – at its disposal. In tests carried out so far, these have generated surprisingly positive results. «I’m particularly pleased to say that, in some cases, the biologically based coating material has outperformed even conventional synthetics in practical stress tests. We definitely want to stick to this path, even if it involves considerably more development work», explains Bigna Salzmann, likewise a Circular Technologist at FREITAG.
«The entire transport and logistics industry is confronted with disruptive changes. Autonomous trucks, digitization and electric propulsion are radically changing transport logistics. What the industry lacks is a closed-cycle material with future viability. That's where we spring into the breach. And as residual recyclers of the material, we are driven by a certain degree of self-interest», says Oliver Brunschwiler, Company Lead. FREITAG firmly believes that a circular form of tarpaulin will be a reality on transit routes in the foreseeable future and is doing all it can to ensure that a first tarp prototype can be fitted to a truck as early as 2022. All the same, it is difficult to predict when a fully circular tarpaulin will go into series production and when it will be possible to say that the truck tarp cycle has gone full circle. But if FREITAG has any say in the matter, it shouldn’t take much longer. After all, it will take at least another five long years of transit before bags can finally be cut from them: the first FREITAG bags to emerge from the closed tarpaulin cycle.
If you want to know more, you can find out everything that isn’t «tarp secret» (excuse the pun) at www.freitag.ch/circulartarp. And if you’re already looking forward to your first everlasting tarp bag, you won’t miss a trick if you have a subscription to the FREITAG newsletter.
*EPEA - Part of Drees & Sommer evaluates materials using the Cradle to Cradle® method, focusing on comprehensive material health for humans and the environment, technical recyclability and the implementation of a take-back system.