FREITAG Circular Tarp Prototype
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FREITAG Circular Tarp Prototype

THE CIRCULAR TARP

Together with other industrial partners, we are developing a truck tarpaulin that, even after a long second life as a FREITAG bag, doesn’t end up in the garbage but back in the cycle.

We think and act in cycles: it’s been FREITAG’s corporate philosophy for more than 25 years now. Today, we’re thinking mainly about how we can act even better in closed cycles. How much better it would be if our bags were not only recycled but also endlessly recyclable. In other words, if we could give discarded truck tarps not only a second life but an everlasting one.
 

To this end, we are researching and working with various combinations of materials. And something that was only a big idea a short time ago has already been mounted on a small truck. So now, the first two prototypes of a circular tarp are out on the road doing their first test run.

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Image and video: Elias Bötticher

THE TARP OF THE FUTURE IS ON ITS FIRST TEST DRIVE

For its venture into the industry upstream of its bag-making business, FREITAG has strengthened itself internally with materials experts and circularity specialists. We found a wide range of interested industrial partners with know-how in materials, chemicals and composites. And then we brought them together at a round table with the circularity experts of the German EPEA and long-standing partners from the tarpaulin business. At this phase of the project, FREITAG saw and continues to see itself mainly as a matchmaker and co-driver in the great tarp revolution.


Like a conventional tarpaulin, the new recyclable version will probably consist of a robust fabric with a water- and dirt-repellent coating. What precisely these two components will consist of is the all-important question. First and foremost, the new tarp will have to withstand the rigors of being on the road. After that, it must be possible to revert it to its basic consituents and reuse them to make something new.


As the project unfolded, various development approaches with different partners and different combinations of fabrics and coatings emerged. These were further developed, tested, discarded and supplemented by the parties involved.

THE POTENTIALLY REVOLUTIONARY VERSION

Status: Prototype T002 on the road // December 2022

Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T002
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T002

The prototype is made of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) with a fabric made from PES (polyester). The TPU coating material has already been tested by the EPEA's circularity experts and passed the materials health test.

 

Since it may well be several years before PES/TPU compounds can be recycled to a high level, the project team is working in parallel on an entirely new, revolutionary tarpaulin structure that could easily bypass this hurdle.

 

“As a chemicals company, we provide the basis for thousands of products and see it as our duty to speed up the transition toward a circular economy. That's why it was immediately clear to us that we wanted to be involved in such an interesting cooperation project with FREITAG right from the start," says Mark Scheller of Covestro, which, together with tarpaulin producer Heytex, is the main driving force behind this sub-project.

 

In December 2022, a prototype of the black TPU/PES tarp was mounted on a truck and has since been undergoing its first road test.

 

THE GAME CHANGER

Status: Prototype T001 on the road // June 2022

Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T001
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T001

Since June 2022, the T001 prototype has been out on the test circuit, which is actually more of a discovery than a development. During the research stage, the attention of the project team was drawn to a material that had already been developed by a Dutch company, Rivertex.

 

In this material, the fabric and coating are made of polypropylene (PP), which ranks as one of the most sustainable of the petroleum-based plastics. The Rivertex developers likewise joined the project team and agreed to have the circularity of their product tested by the EPEA in line with the Product Circularity Passport (*R) requirements. The result (66%) they achieved is very encouraging, and the only reason it was not higher was that the tarp is still produced from so-called "virgin material".

THE (AS YET SMALL) MONOLITHIC VERSION

STATUS: Material under development

 

Together with a partner who develops accessories and materials for FREITAG, we are working on a tarpaulin made of PET. The goal – and also the main technical challenge here – is “monomateriality”: in other words, a tarpaulin that comprises only one material and can thus be recycled at the end of its life cycle without the need for the costly separation of fabric and coating.

THE BIO-BASED VERSION

STATUS: Material under development

 

Several bio-based tarpaulin prototypes have also been developed in cooperation with the German Fraunhofer Institute, the Linotech company and tarp producer Heytex. However, the compounds of bio-based synthetic fibers with a coating of starch-based plastics are not yet sufficiently advanced to hold out the promise of success during a test drive on a truck.

THE ROUTE TO THE TRUCK TARP

 

It’s a long stretch from a tarpaulin to a truck tarp. Which explains why Swiss tarp assembler Bieri came to be involved. They printed the designs on the prototypes, attached the straps and fitted the eyelets so that the potential tarp revolution can also be strapped onto the small truck.

 

So now, come sun, wind or acid rain, they’re out on the roads doing their rounds. This will show us how well the materials hold up as truck tarps: whether they become brittle too quickly, for example, and not least whether and how well the tarp lettering adheres.

 

This is vital for both the haulage companies and FREITAG, because at the end of the day, the aim is to turn the tarps into our much-coveted, unique bags.

 

FREITAG Circular Tarp Prototype

Image: Yuri Schmid & BIERI

Truck Tarp Prototype
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T001
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T002
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype T002
Circular Truck Tarp Prototype Print
Circular Truck Tarp Print
Circular Truck Tarp
Circular Truck Tarp

BEING FASTEST DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN BEING FIRST

At this point it is impossible to predict which of the four sub-projects and which materials will one day result in the first commercial, circular truck tarp. Perhaps there will be more than one alternative to the existing PVC tarp. After all, many highways lead to Milan, and at the moment no one knows which of them will be the fastest and cheapest way of getting to Rome.

 

The know-how currently being gathered from the first prototypes will soon benefit the other developments, as these too are being driven forward at full tilt.

 

FREITAG is very much looking forward to these next stages with its fantastic project partners and to many more successful test rounds. We can hardly wait to take apart the small prototype tarps and send them on their test rounds as recyclable FREITAG bags in the next cycle of their lives.

«While higher recyclability may speak for one development approach, a lower material price may be the main argument for another.»
– Anna Blattert of FREITAG

 HOW IT ALL BEGAN

 

In fall 2020, we decided to get the ball rolling ourselves and initiate the development of a new type of circular tarp. This would, of course, have to be just as robust, durable, water-repellent and practical as the existing one made from PVC. Instead of landing in the garbage, the new tarp would one day end up in the biological or technical cycle. In other words, it will biodegrade or can be broken down into technical materials that are then recycled to produce new tarps or other products.

 

Using contacts such as trucking companies and tarpaulin assemblers from the company’s everyday operations, the project team trawled the tarp supply chain in search of interesting and interested partners who could bring the required expertise covering materials, chemicals and composites to the table. Together with companies and institutions in the fields of circularity and materials testing, the resulting heterogeneous collective of highly motivated partners brings a flexible, goal-oriented, multi-track approach to the tarpaulin revolution.

FREITAG Circularity Graphic

THE SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT MATERIAL

 

In the fall of 2021, the project team had the first material prototypes, compounds of various fabrics and coating materials, which have proved to be surprisingly positive in tests conducted so far. But the collective still has a great deal to do before the circular truck tarp is a transit route reality. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that we can fit a tarp prototype on a truck before the end of 2022.

 

All the same, it is difficult to predict when a fully circular tarpaulin will go into series production and when it will be possible to say that the truck tarp cycle has gone full circle. But it shouldn’t take much longer. Ultimately, though, it will take at least another five long years of transit before we can finally cut bags from them: the first FREITAG bags to emerge from the closed tarpaulin cycle.

 

If you want to know more, be sure to read the interview with our two Circular Technologists. And if you’re already looking forward to your first everlasting tarp bag, you won’t miss a trick over the next few years if you have a subscription to the FREITAG newsletter.

 

Thanks for reading and keeping your fingers crossed for us.

Circular Tarp Art Work Nicolas Polli
Circular Tarp Art Work Nicolas Polli 2
Circular Tarp Art Work Nicolas Polli 3
Circular Tarp Art Work Nicolas Polli 4
Circular Tarp Art Work Nicolas Polli 5

THE CIRCULAR TARP AS A MODEL

 

Artist and photographer Nicolas Polli uses his work to recycle the detritus of his everyday life. But in his interpretation of our search for the recyclable tarp, he changed tack. Instead of taking inspiration from his food or trash, he opted for our circular box of experimental tricks.

«I’m particularly pleased to say that, in some tests, the biologically based coating material has outperformed even conventional synthetics.»
– Bigna Salzmann, Circular Technologist

OUR CIRCULAR TECHNOLOGISTS TELL ALL

Anna and Bigna inject the role of Circular Technologist at FREITAG with a lot of energy.

 

They constitute something like our own internal center of excellence for the circular economy and environmental technology. And, as part of their involvement in various projects, help to ensure FREITAG is even better at meeting circularity criteria.

 

At the moment, however, their main task is still quite far removed from our core business: the development of a truck tarpaulin that meets circularity criteria 100%.

Bigna and Anna Technologicas

What does circularity mean, and what do you understand by it?

How do you develop a circular tarp?

Why go to the trouble of creating a circular tarp instead of an alternative “raw material”?

What changes will a circular tarp mean for the truck tarp and transportation industries?

During or after its service on a truck, should it also be possible to use the circular tarp material as a raw material for bags or other products?

When can we expect to see the first circular tarpaulin products?

What does the circular tarp mean for FREITAG? And what does it mean for consumers?

What has been your greatest challenge in the course of the project so far? And what has been the biggest and most surprising thing to have happened?

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