Many governments around the world are increasingly introducing legislation to encourage businesses to reduce carbon emissions, improve whole-life sustainability and encourage circularity of manufactured products. The same businesses are also facing pressure from a more astute and climate aware customer base.

MDF manufacturers and those that incorporate the material into the products that they place onto the market cannot avoid these challenges. Approximately 100 million m3 of MDF are produced every year, and to date, barely any is recycled.

In this article we explore how the increased consumer demand for sustainable products and the regulatory obligations on businesses are accelerating the drive to a circular economy and how MDF Recovery and its technology, working alongside supply chain partners will solve these challenges.


2020 has been described as ‘a wake-up call to protect our planet’. Consumer research by Garnier in eight countries across four continents showed that 81% of overall respondents wanted to be more sustainable, ranging from 94% of Indonesians to 65% in Germany. These figures are not a one-off – circular economy research by ING, canvassing 15,000 consumers around the world revealed that 83% believe their own behaviour and consumer choices can have a positive impact on addressing global environmental challenges.

Consumers are coming to expect products and services that meet ever higher ethical, social and environmental standards and they have the power of social media at their fingertips to ensure their voices are heard loudly and clearly. The furniture manufacturing and retail sectors are responding.

The last year has seen ever increasing interest and enquiries from businesses throughout the supply chain, from door and profile manufacturers to well-known high street global brands. Our pipeline of interested parties recently topped 300 and all are seeking more sustainable end of life solutions for the MDF that they produce or use.

Recycling waste MDF rather than incineration also contributes to the goal of mitigating climate change as highlighted in Eunomia’s 2017 LCA, which suggests that 132kg CO2e is saved for each tonne of waste transformed back into fibre by MDFR.


Due to the phenomenal rise in demand, MDFR has accelerated its exploitation plans and its first small scale commercial plant will be operational by the end of 2021.

Our technology reverses the MDF manufacturing process and separates high quality wood fibres (rMDF) from the glue that binds them. We can scale the process to suit the needs of the MDF manufacturing giants but it is equally relevant to more regionalised solutions that serve the needs of clusters of furniture producers or retailers that generate the most MDF waste.

The rMDF can then be re-integrated into the MDF manufacturing process or transformed into ‘natural’ products that offer performance advantages over fossil fuel derived alternatives. MDFR has agreed its first deal to supply rMDF to an offsite, modular construction firm based in the UK. This company will be amongst the first to meet the goals of The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 2030 Climate Challenge designed to help meet net zero (or better) whole life carbon for new and retrofitted buildings.

This agreement is an exciting moment for MDFR as we continue to work towards our first large scale plant becoming operational by the end of 2022. We see our technology as a catalyst for disrupting the linear and outdated business model associated with MDF – produce / use / incinerate. We are collaborating with stakeholders in this supply chain that seek to instigate change – be that via innovation or regulation.


One example of product development in the MDF market is 3D mouldable wood fibreboards that incorporate BASF’s innovative binder technology acForm. It is important that progress in resin formulation doesn’t inhibit the recyclability of the fibreboard at end of life and MDFR was pleased to collaborate with BASF in order to prove that, in this case, it certainly didn’t.

“It’s a sad fact that MDF boards frequently end up at landfills or get incinerated at the end of their user life,” said Felix Strangfeld, senior technical marketing manager fibre bonding at BASF.

“We are keen to explore technologies that enable board recycling to meet demand from our customers. Trials in 2020 with MDF Recovery were encouraging – BASF’s innovative binder technology acForm in 3D mouldable wood fibreboards (#3MF) did not inhibit the recyclability of fibre boards in any way. This means recovered fibres can be reintegrated back into MDF production or used as feedstock in other applications.”


Regulation also has a role to play when industry fails to act voluntarily. Since 2011 Ecomobilier in France has transformed the recycling of end-of-life furniture.

Previously over half of all used furniture in France was sent to landfill, and only 23% was recycled. By 2018, over one and a half million tonnes of used furniture had been collected at over 5,000 collection points to be recycled or recovered.

In January this year, Ecomobilier continued its support for research and innovation in the furniture sector with the launch of a call for proposals for new processes to improve recycling and recovery of wood waste. It is no longer considered acceptable to send such material for incineration if recycling opportunities exist.

The French government’s support and focus on enabling the furniture industry in that country to become fully circular is admirable. They have already achieved significant progress and we are delighted that they’ve shown a real interest in MDFR’s technology and potential contribution to meeting their targets. Small levies are paid at point of sale and these revenues used to invest in new technology such as ours. I expect that we will see similar programmes rolled out in other parts of Europe in the near future.


It’s not just the use of end-of-life MDF that is putting pressure on the industry – so too is concern over the cost and availability of raw materials. Continued global growth of wood-based industries shows no signs of slowing down and is predicted to continue increasing. This places considerable pressure on raw materials availability – powering heightened interest in alternative and recycled sources of wood fibre.

Speaking at last year’s International Panel Products Symposium (IPPS) in Wales, Marcel Vroege, head of forest industry consulting, Indufor, highlighted the issues:

“The wood-based panels industry has continued to expand at a global CAGR of 5.5% over the past decade. Growth will be increasingly driven by the developing economies as an ever-larger middle class moves into houses that use multiple panel products. However, it will be the availability of raw materials that has the potential to significantly hinder the wood-based panel industry’s ability to meet demand.

“Raw material availability is also impacted by an ever-increasing demand from new industries targeting the same raw materials as well as existing industries targeting supplies from either lower or higher qualities that were not previously regarded as suitable. The wood-based panel industry needs to focus and develop systems that will extend the life cycle of the wood fibre used.”

The steady increase in timber prices, burgeoning demand and supply pressures – all create a compelling financial argument that is steering manufacturers to incorporate other sources of wood fibre into their process.

Many softwood forests are being replaced with slow growing hardwood, which will lead to a shortage of available timber in the coming years. It is true that the recent European issues with the bark beetle caused a temporary reduction in timber prices, but this has almost passed and prices are rising again.

Dr Rob Elias, director of the BioComposites Centre at Bangor University and technical adviser to MDFR adds: “MDFR generates a new raw material source for the wood/natural fibre industry that reduces demand on standing forests. The recovered fibre is of the same high quality as virgin wood fibre and provides feedstock to the manufacturers of MDF board, insulation products and formable packing materials.”


Collaboration with industry and academia over the last two years has yielded beneficial improvements to MDFR’s technology. Increased processing speeds and enhanced energy efficiency confirm that the company’s technology is now ready to be exploited by partners across the industry.

There is no doubt that within five years every element of the supply chain – from tree to finished product – will need to demonstrate commitment to the circular economy and produce products which are more sustainable.

Advances in processing efficiency means that our technology delivers recycled MDF fibres at a cost that is less than half of the cost of equivalent virgin fibres, a differential that will widen as virgin fibre costs rise. Our technology not only delivers immediate savings, but will also provide both protection against future price rises and increased supply chain security.

MDFR is now actively working with a number of international partners to roll out the technology and remains fully open to engagement with interested parties within the engineered wood production or waste management industries.