With the introduction of our new Circularity Survey, you may be wondering ‘just what exactly is a circular economy?’ We’ll go through the basics below and then explain how we’re approaching new projects with a circular design strategy.
What is a circular economy?
It is a way in which products and services are designed to maximise value and minimise waste.
Why is it important?
The most common method of consumption is a linear economy. In a linear economy, we take resources from the planet. Then we make a product or service from those resources, often producing harmful emissions and waste in the process. Then when we’re finished with them, we waste them by ending up in landfill. Landfill of course only goes on to pollute our planet further.
This model of consumption is not sustainable in any way, shape or form. The resources of our planet are finite – they will run out at some point. So if we want to continue to consume products and services in the same way, then this model needs to be addressed.
Instead, we need to be working towards a circular economy, whereby the waste from previously used products goes into making new and innovative products. In theory, this method would allow us to continue to consume products, but without depleting the planet’s finite resources.
Our Circular Design Strategy
The most important aspect of designing for a circular economy is to think about the product at every stage of its life cycle, not just the manufacturing or user experience. By considering the following 7 aspects of a product, we can work towards ensuring that all new products are ready for a circular economy from the very beginning.
- Ensure the product solves a real-world problem. It needs to be as useful as possible to as many people as possible.
- It needs to be unique. If there are competitors who offer the same or similar solutions, your product is more likely to become a commodity item which holds a lesser value with the user.
- Don’t go overboard with excess features. You should always focus on developing a solution that solves the primary problem in the best way possible. Any excess features can add materials and cost, but without adding value.
Low Impact Materials
- Design the product to be made from recycled materials sources. Aim to turn someone else’s waste into something new and exciting.
- Use natural (but easily replenish-able) materials where possible. Materials like bamboo can grow up to 1 foot per day in established forests, compared to an oak which will take decades to reach a point where it can be used.
- Choose biodegradable or compostable materials where possible. Using a material that can break down to its original chemistry is a perfect example of a circular economy.
- Optimise the part design so that it uses as little material as possible, whilst still meeting durability and functional targets.
- Work with the manufacturing partner to minimise waste produced during production. And try to find a solution for recycling any waste produced back into the production line.
- Know what goes into your product. Having full material traceability is essential to ensure that everything is as it should be and there are no unwanted materials or chemicals that could have come from damaging sources.
Reduce Distribution Impact
- Minimise the distance your products are shipped from manufacturing to consumer. The bigger the distance, the more carbon is emitted during transport.
- Consider how the product can be packaged into the smallest footprint possible. Then ensure that the packaging materials are not only from sustainable sources, but are fully recyclable when they’ve served their purpose.
- Use slow, bulk shipping methods where possible. Again, this will reduce the carbon emitted in the transport from manufacturer to consumer.
Minimise Impact of Use
- Make the product reusable. Anything that is single-use or short-lived, will end up being disposed of quickly. There is also a lack of perceived value with something disposable – people will not cherish it and often will be careless in disposal.
- Avoid designing in consumables that are not completely recyclable. You could have a completely sustainable product solution, but if the consumables used throughout the products life are not, then you could be doing more harm than good.
- Make sure the product is useful. Make it something that is cherished and appreciated by the user. Make sure it will be useful now and in the future.
- Your product should be repairable. With the Right to Repair Act in the UK, it is the responsibility of the brand to ensure that their products can reasonably be repaired to extend their useful lives and keep unnecessary waste from entering landfill.
- As part of being repairable, make spare parts easily accessible. Make it easy for the user to repair the product at home using household tools. This will not only save you valuable resources repairing users products, but can open up an additional revenue stream selling the parts.
- Use quality parts and materials in your product. Use the best you can afford. Quality products last longer and need less repair, but will also add to the user experience, making them cherish it more.
Optimise End of Life
- Avoid using messy bonding agents or adhesives – make all parts separable. The ability to split a product down to its raw ingredients is critical in ensuring all parts can be individually recycled. Co-bonded or dual-material parts cannot often be recycled, therefore often end up in landfill.
- Use materials that are readily recycled, preferably at the kerbside. Make recycling your product the path of least resistance and don’t give the user an excuse to put your product in landfill.
- Offer a take-back scheme and recycle or reuse yourself. Not only will you be able to recycle the value of the product, but it’s a good way of selling replacement products to existing customers.
If you’re still unsure on how well your existing product fits into this circular economy business model, you can try out our completely free Circularity Survey. It only takes a couple of minutes and will give you a clear idea on which of the above areas you should focus on. If you’d like to learn more about the circular economy, get in touch below.