Illuminating a future for end-of-life tyres

tyres

Acustico Lighting founder and director, Samantha McKenzie, was researching the viability of using recycled tyres in the design of her new collection when she came across Tyre Stewardship Australia.

Primarily an interior designer, Samantha McKenzie formed Acustico Lighting in Melbourne to solve the issue of noisy spaces in office environments. On spending an initial two years in research and development, she found that a human-centred design approach for acoustic lighting was the way forward.

Essentially, this meant a special type of lighting fixture that could absorb up to 30 per cent of sound.

“I was working in commercial spaces and there seemed to be a problem with sound and people complaining about echoing boardrooms, or noisy breakout spaces, or open plan offices,” McKenzie said. “It was my intention from that point to go into some sort of manufacturing that would address sound and noise in those spaces.

“I worked out that it was probably best to have a suspended solution, so lighting just made sense because that is something that is often suspended from the ceiling and is close to the source of the noise. I set about creating one particular product line, which was acoustic lighting, and we were lucky enough to win a gold Good Design Award for that first product in 2019.”

More recently, with an influx of clients beginning to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Acustico Lighting founder came across a novel raw material that suited both residential and commercial environments – crumb from recycled car tyres.

Brutalis Collection

Inspired by the brutalist architecture style that emerged in Europe following World War II, as well as the nature of design in historically austere periods, the concept for the Brutalis Collection was conceived. On receiving a Creative Victoria 2021 Sustaining Creative Workers grant, the product development process began.

“I looked at an underlay for some flooring when we were in the middle of a building project, and I thought that recycled tyres could be good,” McKenzie said. “Then I started researching as to how I could go about working with that material, and I came across Envirorubber.”

tyres

Envirorubber Solutions, a local specialist in prefabricated rubber products that are made from recycled tyres, is focused on developing new applications to reuse discarded tyres. This aligned not only with McKenzie’s new project, but with Acustico Lighting’s underlying philosophy in ensuring sustainability in its products and processes.

“The number one thing with everything that we do is to look back into the materials and where they come from,” McKenzie said. “There are some components in every design that can’t all be Australian made – particularly the LED lighting strip which just does not get made in Australia; so, there are elements that we can’t help importing. But the very fact that these tyres are from Australian trucks and cars was really important. Also, the fact that Envirorubber is very local to me, so there haven’t been many kilometres travelled prior to getting them out the door.”

Another facet of Acustico Lighting’s goal to maintain a high level of sustainability across all their products involve recyclable solutions to reduce waste as much as possible.

“In our Musica product range, we ask that people return the product at the end of its lifecycle and then, with our other products, we crumb and use as carpet underlay,” McKenzie said. “And with the Brutalis product line, I will also ask clients to return them so we can recycle all the components that we can.

“The beauty of using the recycled car tyres is that it is moulded as well, so there’s no wastage. We make them to order and that’s the same with all our products; so, we don’t have huge amounts of product sitting around and any wastage in the other range is all sent back to the manufacturer and crumbed as well.”

In working with Envirorubber, McKenzie also discovered Tyre Stewardship Australia, which promotes the development of viable markets for end-of-life tyres.

Lina Goodman, CEO of Tyre Stewardship Australia, was enthusiastic about the concept of converting a waste product into a practical product.

“Tyre Stewardship Australia works collaboratively with the entire value chain to stimulate demand for tyre-derived products, like Acustico Lighting,” Goodman said. “We do this not only by funding, but by promoting these innovative processes and technologies. We want to be the connecting conduit between suppliers and innovators and enable industry sectors to deliver the best real-world solutions.”

McKenzie agreed that utilising Tyre Stewardship Australia’s extensive network supported her venture.

“They connected me with industry researchers and manufacturers in their network, including Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology associate professor Everson Kandare from the School of Engineering,” McKenzie said. “This helped to allay some of my concerns around using recycled tyre crumb and the potential heat and safety issues involved in such manufacturing.

“Having made a couple of calls to them, it was a really nice collaboration at a time when we weren’t really collaborating much, being able to chat to people about something new and exciting.”

 

Design and manufacturing

After performing independent testing on the material, McKenzie found that recycled tyre crumb made for an effective lighting product that absorbed noise. It’s porous, yet soft and demonstrated a good sound absorbency in the mid-frequency range, otherwise known as “voice noise.”

Envirorubber was able to manufacture the Brutalis Collection using a mould designed by Acustico Lighting.

“Prior to them receiving the rubber chips the tyres have wire, cord fluff and reinforcements used to produce various grades of rubber chips, buffings and powder,” McKenzie said. “It is then processed to further remove impurities and is graded by its quality. Envirorubber use a variety of rubber mesh and crumb, depending on the application of their finished product. In this case, a UV resistant binder was used to bind the product in a mould, and that’s how I use it.”

McKenzie believes her use of recycled car tyres as a material for lighting applications is quite unique – and it has had a good response from other professionals in the industry.

“We just exhibited the collection at a large design exhibition in Melbourne and the feedback was overwhelming,” she said. “It really confirmed that architects and designers are looking for ways to specify recycled and upcycled products into their designs, which I think is a major selling point.”

Acustico Lighting’s Brutalis Collection has now been nominated for a Victorian Premier’s Design Award in the Product Design category.

“There has been such a diverse range of products nominated for this award, that I am extremely excited to get this far,” McKenzie said. “It is a tremendous honour to even be nominated by a high calibre of design judges who live and breathe good design.”

The combination of authentic design and Australian manufacturing are of the utmost importance to McKenzie, which is why she worked with Envirorubber and Tyre Stewardship Australia to such great success.

“Our copyright laws in Australia don’t yet recognise furniture and lighting design and unfortunately it has facilitated a ‘replica’ industry which devalues our whole industry,” she said. “It really is a numbers game – we need to change our behaviour around buying Australian design. We have the talent and manufacturing capabilities, but to get our prices down, we need the scale, which can only happen when people stop buying disposable design.”

Tyre Stewardship Australia’s mission is to collaboratively ensure the sustainable management, recycling, and productive use of end-of-life tyres.

Tyre Stewardship Australia’s work helps to drive the transformation of a waste product into a useful commodity, create new employment opportunities and markets for end-of-life tyres.

Visit www.tyrestewardship.org.au/innovation/source-recycled-tyre-products to discover more products that can be made from recycled tyres.