From floor mat to breeding ground

Automotive floor mat producer Visscher-Caravelle to work on a recycling concept

Visscher-Caravelle is the world’s largest producer of automotive floor mats, producing seven million sets a year. At the end of their useful life, the mats potentially generate a mountain of waste every year that is twelve times the height of Mount Everest. To do something about this, the company is participating in the Rabobank Circular Economy (CE) Challenge.

Genemuiden in the Northeastern part of the Netherlands has traditionally been the carpet capital of Europe. So it is entirely logical that automotive floor mat producer Visscher-Caravelle came into being here 60 years ago. After a spurt of growth in the 1990s, during which the company opened several international branches, it grew into the world market leader it is today. Each year, the company now produces seven million sets of automotive floor mats worldwide for all the international car brands. From Jaguar to Volkswagen, from Chrysler to Nissan.

‘Over a number of years, these seven million sets form a huge mountain of waste’, says Global Operations Director Jacko van der Stege of Visscher-Caravelle. ‘We want to do something about this, and we can. The first challenge has to be to use recyclable material to make the mats. This is certainly possible, as there are already examples in the market of recycling of carpet tiles used in offices. Our biggest challenge is to get a return flow of discarded mats in motion. We lose sight of the mats because the vehicles, and therefore also the mats, are distributed around the world. How can we get them back in order to recycle them?’

Proceeds of the Circular Economy Challenge

While the company itself was looking for answers as to how to organise the recycling, local Rabobank IJsseldelta asked Visscher-Caravelle to join the Rabobank CE Challenge last year. In this challenge, eight businesses from the food and automotive industries used ideas from the circular economy to create new opportunities. Van der Stege: ‘We were already in contact with the bank. They knew that we were looking for a solution for recycling. We saw the invitation as a good opportunity and were pleased to join the CE Challenge.’

At the CE sessions, companies from the automotive industry discussed the challenges and potential solutions for circular production. ‘This was very fruitful for us’, says Van der Stege. ‘To create a usable return flow of discarded floor mats, we needed the support of chain partners that use these products in large volumes. For instance, car importers and leasing companies with large vehicle fleets. In the CE sessions, you clearly define what is needed to arrive at a successful concept and how you can get the chain partners to help. As the market leader, we see it as our responsibility to make our business sustainable. To get everyone in the chain involved, you also have to clearly define the benefits for the chain partners. How will they benefit? For them, good maintenance and replacing the floor mats is an opportunity for extra service and an additional contact moment with the customer. As well as that, they are contributing to sustainability.’

Successful business case

The automotive floor mat producer has now successfully presented its recycling plan to a lease company and a car importer with a dealer organisation. Together, they are working on a pilot. ‘The vehicles are fitted with recyclable mats that can be exchanged for new ones at ‘change moments’ and the old mats can be recycled.’ Van der Stege is enthusiastic: ‘If the pilot succeeds, we can start making products that use less oil-driven materials that are suitable for recycling, which will be a huge benefit for the environment. We will then apply the results in all our factories.’

Inspiration

‘The most important message we got from the CE Challenge is that circular production and recycling is not something that you have to do simply to make your business green or sustainable’, adds Van der Stege. ‘It has to be financially viable and built on a solid business case. If we can show that this is possible with a simple product such as a floor mat, there are another 10,000 parts in a car for which a similar approach can be used. Our ambition is to turn the humble floor mat into a breeding ground for inspiration for many other applications.’

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