CEresearchNRW: Circular Value Creation from a Corporate Perspective

Friederike von Unruh vom Prosperkolleg Team.

by Friederike v. Unruh

In April, the web seminar of the Virtual Research Network CEreserachNRW dealt with the topic “Circular value creation from a company perspective – gap between science and practice? Constanze Schweizer, CEO of sapor GmbH, reported on your efforts to act circularly, your successes, but also on the challenges to distribute circular products.

The sapor GmbH manufactures dry soap dispensers mainly for the public washroom, but also the direct end user:inside. Dry soap dispensers have several advantages over liquid soaps. For example, they are more hygienic and economical. The open liquid soap containers quickly germinate due to the water content in liquid soaps from the inside, which is why open systems are gradually no longer used for refilling, but closed plastic soap cartridges with the pump welded on. These are, of course, more harmful to the environment because, for one thing, the cartridges are often not completely emptied of residue and are usually changed too soon, and about 10% of the soap remains unused. On the other hand, a large plastic mountain of waste is produced. In addition, most cartridges and liquid soap dispensers can only be thermally recycled, as different materials are glued together for cost reasons. Another advantage of solid soaps is that the production with certain formulas can completely eliminate the need for chemicals, so you could even use the sapor soaps in nature. Two bars of sapor dry soap in the sapor dry soap dispenser replaced 2 liters of liquid soap.

The company is based at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is also a small dry soap dispenser museum and a store used for exchanges with end users:inside.

After the short company presentation, Constanze Schweizer spoke about her motivation to act ecologically, socially, economically and circularly. sapor offers a good basis for implementing these values, because – paradoxically – for many years no innovations were promoted in the company. Old machines were not disposed of, there was no switch to plastic packaging, there were no design changes, and production was not moved to Asia. This now facilitates the production of circular products.

When researching suitable materials for new products such as the SAPOLINO pocket soap dispenser, sapor repeatedly encounters challenges. Companies often advertise the use of bio-plastics for sustainable products. It is often neglected that the infrastructure to recycle them is missing, which is why they are not really circular. So sapor set out to find post consumer recyclates, but quickly realized that the supply was very small. Often the waste is unwashed and therefore not odorless, which is then of course out of the question for hygiene products. In addition, an attempt was made to use old water bottles, but these could not be sprayed smoothly. Almost always, the recyclates are also more expensive than new plastic.

However, sapor does not think of giving up, but decides to use the bio-plastics and establishes its own cycle, so that the used soap dispensers can be taken back and recycled. The latest generation dispensers are made of bio-plastics. Recycled plastic with 70% grass fiber was chosen. If the soap dispenser is no longer used, the company takes it back, shreds it and returns the material to the cycle. In addition, sapor carries spare parts for all of its soap dispensers, so the products are repairable.

Constanze Schweizer always aims to be satisfied with her own solution. sapor GmbH could be much bigger by now, but sapor is 100% self-financed, so all profits go back into new projects and growth is purely organic, step by step and rather healthy and sustainable. Schweizer says developing special products takes time and, as a small company, you can only produce small batches at first. But entrepreneurial activity never stops. For example, sapor is testing new formulations for laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent and all-purpose cleaner, using natural, local saponins and food residues to avoid the use of palm oil altogether. Or even new business models are being discussed. But she also says to always rethink the journey.

When asked if there was a gap between science and practice, Constanze Schweizer replied that she saw this gap more in legislation. Legislation should provide incentives for the production of circular products: tax benefits for repairs or rapid depreciation for high quality products. Other countries, such as Canada, are already further ahead on these issues. She sees the exchange with research as positive. Especially in the area of bioplastics, she said, she received a lot of input. She encourages further research and to always seek exchange with the practice.