Bissell Homecare Inc. began pushing its environmental credentials in 2008 when it started making its Little Green cleaning machine using post-consumer content.
The home deep-cleaning steam vacuum was a trailblazer for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company, starting with using 10 percent post-consumer ABS and polypropylene, then graduating to 50 percent post-consumer content in 2009. By 2010, the company expects its deep cleaner to have all of its ABS and PP come from post-consumer sources.
That's going to become the model for us, said Doug Medema, director of industrial design for Bissell. We're working hard to close the loop in manufacturing.
But just as the company ramped up its use of post-consumer content, the global economy began falling, and the bottom fell out of the post-consumer market. The company suddenly faced problems accessing the scrap needed to help it create a new way to operate.
Rather than delay its plan, though, the company has taken the effort to obtain more recycled content on its own, wherever it can, and shipping it to its molding facilities in China, Medema said.
Rather than getting our [finished] products from China and shipping back empty containers, we're filling those containers here with post-consumer plastics, Medema said at the International Housewares Show, held March 22-24 in Chicago.
Bissell is not the only company trying to balance its burgeoning efforts in sustainable production with the current economic crises, but Medema and others said that the economy has consumers and businesses alike thinking more carefully about how they spend their money and that means they may be more open to other changes as well.
Right now, there are opportunities to get new products out there because people are changing their behavior, said Craig Sampson, chief innovation officer for World Kitchen LLC of Rosemont, Ill., which makes kitchen products under a variety of brand names including Chicago Cutlery and Ecko.
That is true for Pacific Market International of Seattle, Wash., which launched the Ecycle line of products for its Aladdin and Stanley brands of beverage containers.
The containers use proprietary blends of 100 percent recycled polypropylene with 25 percent of that from post-consumer sources for injection molding, and 90 percent recycled PP with 22.5 percent post-consumer content for blow molding. The firm also joined forces with Kent, Wash.-based retailer REI to recycle polycarbonate from old drinking bottles that had been taken off the market because of bisphenol A concerns. Those bottles are recycled into outer liners on new containers.
While consumers are being asked to buy something new, the bottles also are allowing them to save money overall, said Catie Nations, Bissell's trade marketing manager.
One thing we're finding is that people are giving up their $4 Starbucks or $2 Fiji water and instead bringing water or coffee from home. Buying something with recycled content then makes them feel like they're doing something ... so that's a product line that's really working for us, she said.
Zak Designs Inc. found that a move to reuse scrap from its melamine dishes line turned into a strong consumer performer. The company created its Confetti line of plates with visible flecks of melamine scrap in bright colors. That same distinctive, bright look caught buyers' eyes, and Confetti production has expanded tenfold since it first began two years ago, said Christopher Cogley, communications manager for the Spokane, Wash.-based company.
Green products were on display across the housewares show, from trash bags made with resins that will break down in landfills to post-industrial acrylic used in office organizers and other containers. Snapware Corp. of Mira Loma, Calif., rolled out its green recycled-container line using up to 97 percent recycled PP.
Environmental improvements have to make economic sense, said Anthony Perez, creative director in the consumer environment section for designer Fitch Inc. of Columbus, Ohio. As economic constraints tighten, consumers will be thinking less about the overall good a product can do, and more about what is best for them, he said.
Manufacturers should think about more than simple claims of recyclability, said Augie Picozza, industrial design director for Jarden Corp. of Rye, N.Y. Jarden's products include kitchen electronics under the Sunbeam, Rival and Oster brand names.
While Bissell is looking at short-term environmental issues such as accessing post-consumer PP and ABS, it also is working to change the way it makes products for the future, Medema said. That includes working with Underwriters Laboratories Inc. of Northbrook, Ill., to develop certification standards for electronics using recycled material. And it takes in internal issues, like allowing for more flexibility in color-match requirements, to enable more use of recycled resins.
Bissell also has set a target of reducing energy use by 5 percent at all of its facilities.