Van de Sant: Practicing the Principles of the Circular Economy

Name of Company

Van de Sant

Country of Origin

Curacao

Sector

General

Region

South-America

Issue Covered

Environment

Practices

Management of Internal Business Operations

Sub Categories

Background

For the most part, supply chains today can be characterized as linear: Materials are consumed then products are manufactured, distributed and sold, and used until they are disposed at the product’s end of life stage. However, amidst debilitating environmental pressures caused in part by the unsustainable use of raw materials, there is a growing trend towards a circular economy in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible and then reused at the end of life stage.

Van de Sant, a Curacao-based SME specializing in furniture design and manufacturing provides one such example of the practical application of the principles underlying the circular economy.

Description of Program or Activity

Despite the tradition of using wood as the base material for furniture, for the past five years, Van de Sant has produced furniture framework made from 100% recycled plastic waste collected through recycling programs and from the very litter polluting the small island nation where Van de Sant operates.

To ensure the production of viable, long-lasting furniture, Van de Sant engaged in rigorous testing of their innovation that replaces the wood used in the frames that make up furniture with recycled plastic waste.  As a result, the company will soon set a “long-life guarantee” on the furniture they produce.

In addition to the manufacturing process, Van de Sant also offers their customers repair services to help extend the life of the furniture purchased from the company.  Moreover, customers are also provided with the option of returning end-of-life products, the materials of which are regenerated for use in other products.

Currently, Van de Sant’s furniture as a whole is made of 75% recycled material.  The company is in the process of developing foam from recycled waste and securing collaborations with suppliers producing recycled fabric.  Once such materials are incorporated into the furniture design, Van de Sant expects that their products will be made from 95% recycled waste.

Lastly, Van de Sant collaborated with other industries – for example, the fashion industry (fabrics), and the building and construction industry (recycled construction material) – to share ideas and materials on sustainability solutions.

Lessons Learned

According to Robert Milder, founder of Van de Sant, “It is not common in the furniture industry to talk about how the product is made and at the beginning of Van de Sant, we didn’t feel the need to say to our customers that we make furniture frames out of recycled material. We will never make that mistake again, because we are proud to say that we help stop deforestation and reduce plastic waste.”

Impact

On Van de Sant’s impact, Mr. Milder states, “We made a real product from plastic waste, something that we are proud of and something we believe can be done in many more industries. Our impact might be small in the furniture industry, but if we can help the industry become more innovative, we have reached our goal. A billion tons of plastic, and a billion trees have been cut -- the furniture industry can do something about that. We clean up, first, what we have all left behind, and make people realize that recycling is attractive.”