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Partners in Panels: urban mining turns old kitchens into new ones


28 June 2021, 9 am. In a residential area in Helmond, North Brabant, 5 workmen are busy removing old kitchens from a row of cute houses. Off to the incinerator, you would assume. But you couldn't be more wrong. The men are working for Chainable, an organisation that has devised a system for circular kitchens.

6 years earlier…

In 2015,  New Horizon was set up in Geertruidenberg, a village in North Brabant with around 20,000 residents. The company recovers as many raw materials as possible from buildings that are ready for demolition. The materials are then given a new life in another product or building project. The process is called circular harvesting or 'urban mining'.

In 2017, New Horizon established the Urban Mining Collective with a number of like-minded players from the construction industry: producers, distributors, installers, and knowledge partners. The aim of the UMC? To save as many useful resources and materials as possible from certain death in the incinerator. One of the UMC members is UNILIN Panels.


Rob van Lith (Circular Partnership Manager, New Horizon): "Urban mining means taking a building apart in a different way than is usual in the construction industry. To achieve this, we like to work with scalable companies that share our circular vision and want to grow with us, such as Chainable. From these projects, we mostly mine concrete and clay. We then process this into new bricks. But we also mine a lot of wood, which is why we work with UNILIN Panels.”

From hub to headquarters

When Chainable 'mines' an old kitchen, UNILIN Panels is ready to take the wood and give it a new life. Mined material first goes to the nearest hub. This is a local waste processor that collects, sorts and shreds the wood, and sends it to the UNILIN Panels headquarters as soon as there is enough for a delivery.

In Oostrozebeke, the wood chips are further purified and processed into chipboard. This chipboard is perfect for various applications, such as the new kitchens that Chainable installs for its customers.


Kristof Van Hoye (Category Manager Circular Economy, UNILIN Panels): "At UNILIN, we give a new life to over 2000 tonnes of waste wood every day. Two years ago, we joined the UMC to take our circular operation to a higher level in the Netherlands as well. The fact that we were able to set up a collaboration with Chainable so quickly proves that New Horizon's initiative is bearing fruit. This is undoubtedly just the beginning of a beautiful story.”


A kitchen chain

Chainable is a Brabant start-up that joined the UMC at the beginning of 2021. With their kitchens, Simon Rombouts and his colleagues do not just want to put a circular product on the market, but want to organise the entire chain.

From mining to processing, installing and then mining once more: Chainable retains ownership of the materials throughout the entire process. Customers receive tips to maintain their kitchen and enjoy professional service.


Simon Rombouts (Co-founder & CEO, Chainable): "In 20 years' time, we will mine the kitchens that we are installing today. We are delighted to work in this way, in order to make our sustainable economic model succeed. The Netherlands is the European leader in circular economies, but we still have a long way to go. We need a wholesale behavioural and system change to get everyone to make the transformation.”


Leading the battle

Partners such as New Horizon and UNILIN Panels are crucial links in the Chainable network. But without construction companies to use the recycled material, the system falls apart. There is legislation is in the pipeline to embed circular construction but for the time being Chainable is reliant on a small group of pioneers.

Woonpartners offers thousands of Helmond families an affordable, comfortable home. Most residents are not immediately concerned by the material used to make their kitchen. Nevertheless, Woonpartners has opted to take the circular path. After a pilot in its own office, the housing corporation is now looking at how it can apply circularity in its rental properties.


Bas Sievers (Managing Director, Woonpartners): "More than ever, the kitchen is the liveliest part of the home. So it's crucial that kitchens meet the demands of our residents. Every year, we replace hundreds of kitchens in our homes. Chainable was the right organisation in the right place to help shape our transition to a circular construction process. Being a pioneer is a long-term project, as you face a lot of opposition, but I'm convinced that sooner or later our fellow corporations will take the same step. Woonpartners wants to be at the heart of the society of today and tomorrow — not that of ten years ago. That's why we've already taken the plunge.”


The ball is round, and so is the circle

Back to 28 June once more. The guys from Chainable are taking new kitchen items out of their van and whistling as they carry them inside. The night before, the Czech Republic had knocked the Netherlands out of Euro 2020. But even that couldn't dampen the good mood of the five young men. As they know they've just made another family very happy with a new, sustainable kitchen. Onwards and upwards! And we're not just talking about the Dutch national team.

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