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Recycled silicone: rediscovering the limits of recyclability


Lékué steam case made from recycled silicone on top of shredded silicone waste.


In a revolutionary joint effort, Lékué and OiKo Design Office, with the support of the Catalan Waste Agency, have joined forces to develop a pioneering industrial process for recycling platinum silicone.


This material, previously considered non-recyclable due to its thermostable nature, is essential for the manufacture of most of Lékué's products due to its strength and safety. The initiative marks a milestone towards a more sustainable and circular business model. Over a year of intense R&D work, led by OiKo in close collaboration with Lékué's various departments and its network of suppliers, has made it possible to obtain innovative recycled materials from waste that previously ended up in landfills.



Hand picking up a Lékué product made of translucent recycled silicone.
Image 1. The result of the recycled platinum silicone applied to one of Lékué's star products.

In moving towards a circular economy, technological innovation and exploration of the human dimension play equally crucial roles. So, alongside the work of chemists and materials engineers at OiKo, we incorporate sociological and user studies to achieve the most effective solution.




First phase: user study


In the first phase of the project, a user study was carried out to achieve greater consumer participation and satisfaction in the process. This led to the design of "Récupéra", the program for collecting Lékué products at the end of their useful life, implemented as a pilot test at various points of sale in Barcelona. The system allowed the brand's customers to return their used products in specially designed containers, receiving rewards for their next purchase.



Schematic of the Récupéra collection system
Image 2. Diagram of the Take-back system proposed for the "Récupéra" project for disused Lékué products.


Set of PLV elements designed and manufactured for the pilot test of the collection system.
Image 3. Container designed for collecting disused Lékué products.

Récupéra campaign carried out as a pilot test in El Corte Inglés and Casa viva shops in Barcelona in 2023.
Image 4. Récupéra campaign carried out as a pilot test in El Corte Inglés and Casa viva shops in Barcelona in 2023.



Second phase: development of the recycling process


Recycling a material such as silicone has been a huge technical challenge. In the early stages of the process and due to the technology used, it was impossible to achieve a recycled content of more than 10%.



Waste prepared for recycling and first samples of sub-optimal materials.
Image 5. Waste prepared for recycling and first samples of sub-optimal materials.



Over months, thanks to a technical and creative approach, we have achieved a different waste transformation that allowed, for the first time, to increase the amount of usable recycled material. Progressively, we could go from 10 to 20, 20 to 30, and up to 50% recycled silicone in each product.



wo samples of material with different percentages of recycled content.
Image 6. Two samples of material with different percentages of recycled content. It can be seen that in the sample containing only 10% recycled content, the material is translucent, while the sample containing 50% recycled content is completely opaque.


In the materials' development processes, and this case is a great example that we carry out at OiKo, the active participation of the customer and industrial suppliers is essential. Together, we succeed in advancing and innovating technologically, ecologically, and in design with new recycling processes and new, more circular products.



 Detail of the finish of the bread bin made of recycled platinum silicone.
Image 7. Detail of the finish of the bread bin made of recycled platinum silicone.


Third phase: emotional design of materials


As a next step, at the industrial level, once the recycling process has stabilized, we continue studying the maximum amount of recycled material that can be incorporated, guaranteeing the highest standards of food safety in products intended for cooking, but also of perceived quality. One factor is essential to guarantee success in the implementation of recycled materials: the user experience must be the most favorable. That means the user's perception of quality and satisfaction with its use is the best. For this reason, it is important to understand the response to the different recycled material contents, the color, the texture... Recycled material has to be synonymous with better material, and at OiKo we are convinced of this.



Colour application on different samples of recycled platinum silicone vapour vapour cases.
Image 8. Colour application on different samples of recycled platinum silicone vapour vapour cases.

For us, a successful product must not only be environmentally compatible, technically feasible, and economically viable, but most of all, it must be desirable for the end user.

In the final stage of the project, as part of Barcelona Design Week, we had the pleasure of presenting the results of platinum silicone recycling together with Lékué, accompanied by a fantastic workshop. Our goal was clear: to validate this new material from the user's experiential perspective. In the design of the material from the point of view of the user's perception, we worked with the Material Driven Design methodology. Using specially designed worksheets for each project, we collected quantitative and qualitative information from a sample of users in co-creation sessions. In this way, participants were able to rate and describe their perceptions of the material's qualities, while at the same time discussing and arguing their opinions with the other participants.


Different material samples from tests carried out in the platinum silicone recycling project.
Image 9. Different material samples from tests carried out in the platinum silicone recycling project.Industrial designers, material experts and cooking enthusiasts were immersed in the experience of interacting with various platinum silicone samples, from virgin material to samples with different degrees of recycling. This event provided valuable insights into the emotions that different materials convey and the essential qualities they must have to be applied in culinary products.


Participants of the workshop at the OiKo Design Office studio in the context of Barcelona Design Week.
Image 10. Participants of the workshop at the OiKo Design Office studio in the context of Barcelona Design Week.

"It is curious how the color and texture of the product can make it appear more or less hygienic, safe, or suitable for food contact beyond the actual physical properties of the material." Asked one of the participants, summarising the reason for the activity.


The yellow base material with a medium recycled content
Image 11. The yellow base material with a medium recycled content has been selected as the most suitable material for use in branded products.

The success of this workshop and the positive reception from the public represent a step forward in Lékué's ambitious initiative to incorporate recycled platinum silicone into its product line and a better strategic achievement for OiKo Design Office as a consultancy specializing in industrial design and circular materials.



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