Recycled plastic is at the core of transforming indoor air quality – one Butterfly at a time

15 December 2023, 9:00 EET

The collaboration between Butterfly Air and Fortum Recycling & Waste might have been an unexpected one, but it turned into a productive and exciting project for both, resulting in an indoor air quality monitor made of recycled plastic – and with wings. 

Butterfly Air is a UK-based company with a mission to improve indoor air quality through their state-of-the-art sensors. In summer 2021, the company contacted Fortum Recycling & Waste with a request: they wanted to incorporate the Fortum Circo plastic recyclate into their innovative air quality monitor. It didn’t take long for Fortum to get excited about the collaboration, and so their joint product development journey begun. 

A natural combination of form and function

When Butterfly Air first started to develop their product, they did a review of what is currently on the market and where the possible problems lie. The big missing element was controlling the airflow across the sensors, which led to inconsistent readings. They also found that there wasn’t a system that delivered accurate and reliable data. 

“At the beginning of our journey, we went through a thorough and meticulous process while building our digital architecture. Our aim was to create an air quality monitor that was advanced, trustworthy, and also a beautiful design. We decided to build the monitors in the shape of a butterfly, as in nature they are a sign of clean and healthy air,” says Nick Munro, one of the co-founders of Butterfly Air. 

After exploring different options together and testing out the Fortum Circo material, they ended up on a Fortum Circo® PP-CF compound containing cellulose fibre that offers strength, but also gives the material a more organic feel compared to glossy virgin plastic. The choice of colour was also small challenge: achieving the desired off-white, warm pale grey hue was no easy task due to the mixed colors of the post-consumer plastic waste of which Fortum Circo is made. After going back and forth a few times, Fortum succeeded in achieving the correct shade – an important advancement in the development of the material. 

“There is a lot we can do with the Fortum Circo material colour-wise, but white and other light hues are very tricky due to the mixed origin of the material. Achieving the desired shade for Butterfly Air was as much of a win for us as it was for them. The finished product is also a great example of what our joint material development together with the customer can produce, whether it be the qualities, feel, or colour of the material,” says Anniina Rasmus, Brand Sales Manager for Fortum Circo®. 

Carefully crafted aesthetics bring the Butterfly alive

Especially the look and feel of the material were important to Butterfly Air, as they wanted the product to be aligned with the nature-inspired design. 

“Aesthetically, Fortum Circo has a certain look to it, which we think is great – it looks new even though it’s recycled. We didn’t want the product to look like polished virgin plastic, and the natural feel of the Circo grade is exactly what we had in mind,” says Ali Munro, Designer and co-founder of Butterfly Air. 

In addition to looks and colour, it was also important to Butterfly Air that the compound did not contain any toxic materials and would not emit any particulate matter, which in large doses can be dangerous. That is also why the Fortum Circo recyclate compound was an appealing choice, as it is safe to use in other high-demanding applications, such as toys. The censors in the Butterfly detectors are very sensitive and could be interfered with if the material emitted any particulate matter. 

“The development has been a long process – as a textile designer, I didn’t quite realise how many hurdles you would have to jump over. It has been a great sign of Fortum to want to stick with us and help us with the process. Their approach was well aligned with ours and throughout the entire process we have had a trusting relationship where everybody has been able to talk straight. From the very beginning, we liked the idea of working with Finnish people and their design mindset, which really plays into the story of Butterfly,” Ali Munro says. 


About Butterfly Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) monitoring system

Butterfly is an innovative and patented Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) monitoring system including a suite of beautifully designed hardware with integrated software and a charming narrative that has been developed at Imperial College London over the past 4 years. Highly qualified UK team has engineered a new standard of accuracy and reliability which meets and exceeds the international WELL standard for buildings. Butterfly IAQ data is consistent and trustworthy, providing for integration and optimisation with air purification technologies and HVAC systems to deliver >40% energy savings in buildings – an industry first. Products are manufactured in the UK to matchless standards of quality to ensure long term durability and service. 

Butterfly products will be available for sale in spring 2024.

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