Environmental Audit MEC backpack

Backpack Features:

  • Made of 40-denier nylon with a water-resistant silicone polyurethane coating.
  • Contoured, slim shoulder straps have mesh lining for ventilation.
  • Height-adjustable sternum strap is detachable.
  • Stretch-woven side pockets for narrow water bottles.
  • Zippered front pocket for easy access to your phone or snacks.
  • Internal zippered pocket for valuables.
  • Removable foam back pad. When removed it allows the pack to stuff into its own interior pocket.
  • Grab handle.

Design Model

MEC’s design model is “Sustainabiltiy by Design.” They have information on their website that gives consumers information about their efforts for sustainable design through accountability, making products, fair trade, materials and technology as well as their environmental commitment. They also value quality, integrity, cooperation, creativity, leadership, humanity and adventure.

Materials Sourcing and Processing

MEC states that they source materials from textile mills in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Turkey, the US, Italy and Thailand.

Materials Listed:

  • 40-denier nylon
  • water-resistant silicone polyurethane coating

Nylon

The world’s biggest nylon exporter is China, however the countries MEC has stated they source from, that produce nylon, would be the US, Taiwan, Japan, Korea in order of largest producers (shown in Figure 1). With this information you could infer that it would be most likely that they may source their nylon from the US.

Nylon is a strong material that resists abrasion making it suitable for objects such as backpacks and other long-wear items. It is created from bonding petrochemicals together, nylon is not biodegradable and is a well known and vastly used synthetic polymer. The process which nylon is made uses large resources including the actual materials which can vary but are mainly petroleum based carbons and coal.

Silicone Polyurethane Coating (water resistance)

This blend of two synthetic sealants is relatively new and therefore finding it’s exact source is questionable. Polyurethane, which is a synthetic polymer, are produced by reacting monomers in a reaction vessel. They can produce many different types of material including foam and sealants (the removable foam back pad is likely made of polyurethane). Silicone is also a polymer that is a combination of silicon, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Looking at Figure 2 we can see how the blend of both synthetic products creates a superior one, with many benefits. This sealant serves a good purpose for a long lasting backpack due to the water resistance, low weight, and durability.

Other Processing

This particular backpack was made and processed in Vietnam. The processing of a backpack includes sewing together materials and the addition of zippers, pockets, straps, addition of removable foam back pad and any other features.

Energy, Water & Air Emissions

Energy

The backpack being reported on weighs 266g. After examining the product in store, I will assume this product’s weight is made from 85% Nylon (+ 2% other synthetic materials that may not be nylon), 7% plastic zippers and buckles, 5% polyurethane (coating and foam insert) and 1% silicone for the purpose of determining the following numbers.

The production of nylon uses 250 MJ of energy per KG of fiber. Therefore, the 231.42g of nylon in our backpack uses 57.87 MJ.

The production of plastic for the zippers and buckles uses 90 MJ of energy per KG. Therefore, the 18.62g of general plastics in our backpack uses 4.65 MJ.

The production of polyurethane and silicone is similar using an average of 71MJ of energy per KG. Therefore, the 15.96g of combined polymers uses 1.1 MJ.

The process of spraying the Silicone Polyurethane Coating onto the nylon uses 14.9 MJ of energy per KG. Therefore, the 231.42g plus the estimated 10.43g of coating uses 3.6 MJ.

Total per backpack = 67.22 MJ (roughly)

This does not account for the energy used in the sourcing of petroleum or other base materials that these polymers are made from. Nor does it account for the actual weaving of fibers in order to make the nylon fabric. Both of these are significant energy uses.

Due to a lack of information the production and transportation energy use is not available to calculate however a statement from MEC’s website states:

  • Our stores, offices and Distribution Centre are as energy efficient as possible, and we invest in energy efficiency upgrades as new technologies become available.
  • We limit the use of air freight for overseas shipments. For shipments from our Distribution Centre to our stores, we ship by rail whenever possible to lower our carbon footprint.
  • We invest in renewable energy certificates for all MEC facilities in Canada to support local clean energy from wind, low-impact hydro and landfill gas. Some stores generate energy on-site with solar panels on the roofs.
  • In 2014, we started a pilot with an energy and water monitoring dashboard that displays real-time data in stores to help change behavior.

Water

The production of nylon uses 186 L of water per KG of fiber. Therefore, the 231.42g of nylon in our backpack uses 43 L

The production of polyurethane uses 380 L of water per KG of fiber. Therefore, the 15.96g of combined polymers in our backpack uses 6 L

Total per backpack = 49L (roughly)

This does not account for the water used in the sourcing of petroleum or other base materials that these polymers are made from. It is important to note that water runoff from nylon production can be harmful and can contaminate water systems.

Due to a lack of information the production and transportation water use is not available to calculate however a statement from MEC’s website states that they failed their goals for decreasing their use of water and had used a total of 22,900,000 L of water in their buildings.

Air Emissions

The production of nylon creates larger CO2 emissions as well as N2O which is a reported 300 times more harmful to our atmosphere than CO2. This is because of it’s long life span of 120 years which makes it possible for the chemical to reach upper layers of the atmosphere.

The production of the Silicone Polyurethane Coating has a moderate CO2 emissions rating however still contributes to emissions overall.

A statement from MEC’s website states that they failed their attempts in lowering carbon emissions and contributed a total of 4792 Tonnes of Carbon through product transport, waste, energy use and business flights.

Consideration of Waste Reduction/Disposal & Recycling

MEC makes good consideration for waste reduction however it is stated on their website that they failed to achieve their goal of 92% waste diverted and only achieved 91.3% of waste was recycled, donated or composted instead of going to a landfill.

Some polices on waste disposal from their website are:

  • We recycle scrap fabric swatches and raw material samples from our design department; they get turned into fiber for things like furniture padding and insulation.
  • Twice a year, teams at MEC stores don coveralls and jump in our dumpsters to do a waste audit and find ways to improve.

Shipping and Packaging Practices

MEC has made large efforts to reduce waste and promote good packaging and shipping practices. As stated on their website thy have put the following actions into place to promote this idea:

  • We cut out unnecessary packaging, limit glue, and use recyclable materials so members can recycle packaging instead it ending up in the landfill.
  • When MEC-label clothes are shipped from factories, we request that they’re rolled and tied with raffia whenever possible (which works out to about 95% of shipments), instead of being shipped in plastic polybags. We’ve been doing this “sushi-roll” packaging since 2010.
  • We limit the use of air freight for overseas shipments. For shipments from our Distribution Centre to our stores, we ship by rail whenever possible to lower our carbon footprint.
  • We eliminated single-use shopping bags from our stores in 2008. No single-use shopping bags means we keep about 3.4 million single-use bags out of the landfill each year.
  • In 2011, we stopped producing our paper catalogue, which saves about 300,000kg of paper a year.

The Products Longevity and Disposal Impact

Although this product isn’t the most environmentally made backpack, the longevity of a water resistant nylon backpack is pretty long. This backpack might function until a strap breaks or zipper busts but this is considering use and wear. If you were to take this on occasional weekend hiking trips, it may last you a lifetime. However, when something does break, MEC offers repair programs that would extend it’s longevity. Although nylon isn’t commonly recyclable there are some recycle programs that do recycle this material. Timbuk2 is a great example as you can put your worn out nylon bags in a box and send it to them which is at no cost and you will receive 20% off on a future purchase

by: Lauren Kandrack

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