FREITAG MONO[PA6]: THE BRING-IT-BACK-PACK
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THE FIRST CIRCULAR BACKPACK MADE FROM A SINGLE MATERIAL GOES INTO PRODUCTION
FREITAG is embarking on a new cycle with a product made from just one material and sending the first circular backpack into production. And to ensure that it is actually recycled at some point, the necessary services and processes are already under development.
Thinking and acting in cycles is integral to the FREITAG DNA. Something that began with the use of discarded truck tarps for bags and accessories will take place increasingly in closed cycles with no waste whatsoever. «It's not enough to develop products that can be recycled. We have to take a holistic approach to the design of our products, keeping the end of their lives in mind and making sure that everything circular actually goes back into the cycle,» says Anna Blattert, Circular Technologist at FREITAG.
ONE MATERIAL – ZERO WASTE
To make the recycling process as simple as possible and maximize the actual recycling rate, FREITAG opted for the principle of mono-materiality – the use of a single type of material – in its latest development. In practice, it means that if every part of the product is made of the same material, it can be recycled as a whole at the end of its life. And this is much easier than with conventional products, which are usually made of a variety of parts and materials or even mixed materials. After an intensive material and market analysis, FREITAG decided to use polyamide 6 – or PA6 for short. PA6 is a versatile plastic, suitable for resilient products and particularly easy to recycle.
A SINGLE MATERIAL – A WEALTH OF CHALLENGES
But making everything from the same, single material was easier said than actually developed and sourced. Or, as Circular Technologist Anna Blattert puts it: «We weren’t interested in making simple carrier bags so much as functional, durable and, above all, water-repellent FREITAG products made of just one material. We didn’t expect that a reduction in the number of materials would increase the complexity of the project – especially as regards sourcing – so drastically.»
The search for a waterproof fabric made of polyamide 6 that could be the basis for new products was long and arduous but ultimately in vain. So, in the end, FREITAG decided to take the matter in hand itself. Instead of giving an existing fabric a waterproof coating, the company joined forces with an innovative Taiwanese partner in the textile industry and struck out in another direction. They worked together to produce a triple-layered laminated material whose lining, waterproof membrane and outer fabric are all made of PA6. After a little over two years and many rounds of testing – among others with the engineering faculty at the Albstadt-Sigmaringen University of Applied Sciences in Germany – the moment of truth had come. The FREITAG PA6 fabric passed its durability and water impermeability tests convincingly.
BACK TO THE ROOTS AND OFF ON THE BIKE
FREITAG firmly believes that the realization of a circular economy can only be achieved through cooperation and that this idea should also be reflected in product design. The new backpack, therefore, was created jointly with Jeffrey Siu, a young British designer, who references cycling culture in the process and reinterprets it for individual urban logistics: «Polyamide 6 can assume very different forms; it can be robust or soft and used as a mesh or waterproof textile. Combining the diversity of a single material in a backpack while continuing to sustain the core of the FREITAG ethos with products suitable for cycling was incredibly exciting and challenging.»
MECHANICALLY RECYCLABLE IN EVERY WAY
The guiding principle behind the development of the product was that the functional and durable backpack could be recycled as a whole without the need for complex dismantling. True, some minuscule components, such as the spots of adhesive for the lamination and the printing ink for the inner label, are not made of PA6. And glass fibers are added to the zipper slide for reinforcement. However, the proportions of these other materials are so low that it will even be possible to recycle the bags mechanically. At KATZ Aarau, Switzerland's platform for plastics technology, the complete prototypes were first shredded in a granulator and then extruded into high-grade PA6 granulate. These tests confirm that, when the time comes, FREITAG Mono[PA6] backpacks will give rise to something new.
HELLO AND SEE YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN, MONO[PA6]
Confirmation of the material’s mechanical recyclability meant there was every reason for FREITAG to launch the production of an initial batch of Mono[PA6]. The first 1500 units of the first circular backpack will be made of virgin PA6, a non-recycled material, and are expected to be available in spring 2024, along with a repair concept and take-back process. The aim, ultimately, is for FREITAG Mono[PA6] products to have a long life and, wherever possible, for all recyclable backpacks subsequently to find their way back to FREITAG and into the cycle.
FREITAG's latest circular development is called Mono[PA6] because every part of the backpack, from the fabric to the buckles, is made of just one material: polyamide 6. Thanks to this mono-materiality, as it is called, the product can be recycled entirely in one piece, without the need for complex dismantling. It also means that when all the life-extending options, such as repair and reuse, have been exhausted and the product has reached the end of its life, it returns via the FREITAG take-back service to the open-loop material cycle and can be mechanically recycled into reusable raw polyamide 6.