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SUSTAINABLE AND CIRCULAR ECONOMY BUSINESS MODEL FOR TOWELS WITH MULTIPLE LIFES USING A TAKE-BACK SYSTEM

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Giving used fitness towels a second life

Used towels from fitness centres are being taken by Arpe Barcelona and recycled into new cleaning cloths.

Climate Change and Environment
Industrial Technologies

Every year, fitness centres throw away nearly 80 % of their towels. This represents a huge amount of waste, which is why Arpe Barcelona, a technical cloth manufacturer, has developed a sustainable, microfibre alternative. “Our microfibre towels come with a purchase back option after they reach their usable life,” says Joan Pera, Arpe Barcelona General Manager. “We then recycle these used towels, turning them into cleaning cloths and thus completing the circular economy.” As one of the first companies to specialise in the manufacturing and personalisation of microfibre cloths and towels, Arpe Barcelona had to ensure the technical feasibility of its business model. With the support of the EU-funded ARPE-CIRCULAR-TOWEL project, the company was able to do exactly that. “During the project, we optimised our business plan and prepared the product for marketisation,” says Pera. “This involved identifying and analysing the EU market, distribution channels, key stakeholders, relevant regulations and our key differentiators.”

The challenge of finding customers

According to Pera, the most surprising outcome of this research was how challenging it is to sell second-life products: “We initially thought the biggest challenge would be organising the logistics of recovering and remanufacturing the towels. But it turned out, at least on a small scale, this was the easiest part!” Finding potential customers, however, was a different story. “We were surprised because initially when we presented the towels the reaction was very positive, with many fitness centres expressing significant interest,” adds Pera. “However, in the end, we discovered that actually closing the sale required a change in mentality against the idea of buying something ‘used’.” To overcome this barrier, the company has been promoting the product at technological centres, business organisations, trade shows and seminars. To build awareness amongst the public, it also launched a public relations campaign.

A sound business model

During an initial demonstration with actual fitness centres, the project successfully converted 100 kg of end-of-life towels into 2 500 new cleaning cloths. “Although it may seem obvious that a towel can have multiple lives using a buy-back system, when you try to convert this into a competitive and profitable business, it is neither obvious nor easy,” explains Pera. Based on this demonstration, Arpe estimates that it will market around 48 million microfibre towels per year, or the equivalent of EUR 98 million. Furthermore, Arpe expects that the production and sale of the new cleaning cloths will double the company’s market potential to reach EUR 176 million. “Clearly, these numbers prove that our business model is both technically and economically viable,” adds Pera. “But most importantly, it shows that our product will contribute to a more sustainable mode of industrial production.” Backed by a solid business plan, Arpe is now working to optimise its marketing and sales strategy, for which they are considering applying for additional EU funding.

Keywords

ARPE-CIRCULAR-TOWEL, Arpe Barcelona, fitness towels, recycle, technical cloth, microfibre towels, circular economy, second-life products, fitness centres

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