FACTORY JOURNAL

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circularity STUDY

The M4 Design Lab was introduced to the acoustic tile industry through a client partnership, and was intrigued by the end of life and material recovery opportunities associated with these products. This inspired a deep dive into the world of acoustic felt tiles, and how we might apply sustainable design practices and systems thinking to increase the runway of these materials in the circular economy.

Keeping materials in the loop longer


SCOPE OF WORK:
WASTE STREAM & MATERIAL STUDY, INDUSTRIAL DESIGN

the industry

Acoustic panels are very commonly used in the interiors of many homes, offices and other spaces. Acoustic panels work by dampening or absorbing sound waves, preventing reverberation and thus eliminating unwanted echoes within a space. They are particularly important in large open spaces that are used by many people, and are an absolute requirement in increasingly popular open-concept office designs.

Many acoustic panels are made of PET felt, and the companies producing them often incorporate recycled material from post consumer recycled water bottles or other waste streams. Thus these products have a positive and compelling start of life story.

The end of life strategy is more complicated. Some acoustic tiles companies offer recycling programs, but more often than not, these materials end up in landfill.

THE STUDY

The M4 Design Lab wondered if this waste material might be reincorporated back into the supply chain for acoustic panels and parts. We first explored how to use waste felt tiles to create a new material. When the felt tile was shredded, it became an airy “fluff” texture, which we were able to test for injection molding. The result was an injectable polymer with characteristics similar to a standard PET.

Once material viability was established, we considered how a rigid polymer could be incorporated into hardware supporting different types of acoustic felt tile designs, going beyond the standard wall tiles, and looking at ceiling baffles, lighting and wall dividers.

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INTEGRATING CIRULARITY

We concluded that recycled felt tiles are a viable material source for rigid, injectable polymer, and can be incorporated into a variety of designs in the acoustic design industry, keeping these valuable materials in the loop for longer.