Designing for a circular economy
Circular Design plays a crucial role in the circular economy, as it shapes the products, systems, and services that we use and how they function. In a circular economy, the design must focus on creating closed-loop systems that minimize the use of finite resources, reduce waste, and optimize the use of materials and energy.
Design in a circular economy can be approached in the following ways:
- Design for durability and repair: Products should be designed to last as long as possible and be easy to repair or refurbish when needed.
- Design for reuse and recycling: Products should be designed to be easily disassembled so that their components can be reused or recycled.
- Design for resource efficiency: Products should be designed to use resources efficiently and minimize waste. This includes using renewable and regenerative resources whenever possible.
- Design for adaptability: Products should be designed to be easily adapted to new uses, rather than being discarded and replaced when they are no longer needed for their original purpose.
By adopting these principles, designers can create products and systems that are more sustainable and have a smaller environmental footprint. This can lead to significant benefits for both the environment and society, as well as economic benefits for the companies that adopt these practices.
The circular economy presents an alternative to the dominant linear market systems. The recycling process is essential for the planet since it keeps garbage out of the ecosystem preserves fossil resources, and contributes significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the present plastic recycling system is insufficient to keep significant amounts of plastic from damaging the environment or being burnt. One major reason for this is that the diversity of polymers, colours, adhesives, and labels makes reprocessing these components in a closed economy difficult, if not impractical.
What is the meaning of circularity?
Circularity refers to the concept of creating closed-loop systems that minimize the use of finite resources, reduce waste, and optimize the use of materials and energy. It is a key principle of the circular economy, which aims to create economic, social, and environmental benefits by designing products, systems, and services that are regenerative and restorative, rather than extractive and wasteful.
In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, and resources are used efficiently and sustainably. When a product reaches the end of its useful life, it is either reused, repaired, or recycled, rather than being discarded and replaced with a new product. This approach helps to minimize waste, reduce environmental impact, and create economic value.
Circularity can be applied to a wide range of sectors and industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and transportation. By adopting circular practices, businesses and organizations can create more sustainable products and systems, and contribute to the transition to a more regenerative and resilient global economy.
What is circular design?
Circular design is a design philosophy that aims to create products, systems, and services that are regenerative and restorative, rather than extractive and wasteful. The goal of circular design is to create closed-loop systems that minimize the use of finite resources, reduce waste, and optimize the use of materials and energy.
There are several key principles of circular design:
- Circular design starts with the end in mind. It focuses on designing products and systems that can be easily disassembled, repaired, reused, or recycled.
- It prioritizes the use of renewable and regenerative resources. This means using materials that can be replenished naturally or that can be regenerated through technological processes.
- It aims to minimize waste and pollution by designing products and systems that can be used efficiently and sustainably over their entire lifecycle.
- It seeks to optimize the use of resources by designing products and systems that can be used in multiple ways, or that can be easily adapted to new uses.
Why is circularity important?
Circularity is a concept that is closely related to the SDGs, particularly Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. This goal aims to ensure that people consume and produce goods and services in a way that minimizes negative environmental impacts, while also promoting economic growth and social well-being.
The current linear economic model, in which we extract raw materials, use them to make products, and then dispose of them when they are no longer needed, is not sustainable in the long term.
It relies on the continuous extraction of finite resources, which is leading to resource depletion, pollution, and climate change.
In contrast, a circular economy seeks to create closed-loop systems that minimize the use of finite resources and optimize the use of materials and energy. By keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, and by designing them to be easily reused, repaired, or recycled, a circular economy can reduce waste and pollution, and create economic value.
Adopting circular practices can also help to create more resilient and adaptive systems, which can better withstand external shocks and disruptions, such as economic downturns or natural disasters. This can help to create more sustainable and equitable societies and contribute to the transition to a more regenerative and resilient global economy.
Circular Design Process: The four stages
The four stages of the circular design process are: Understand, Define, Make, Release
Stage 1: Understand
In this stage, designers define the problem that they are trying to solve and identify the key stakeholders and users of the product or system. They also define the goals and objectives of the design and establish criteria for success.
Stage 2: Define
In this stage, designers conduct research to gather information about the problem, the users, and the context in which the product or system will be used. This may include market research, user research, and environmental impact assessments.
Stage 3: Make
In this stage, designers generate ideas for solutions to the problem. This may involve sketching, prototyping, and testing various concepts. Designers may also consider the circularity of the product or system at this stage, by considering how it can be disassembled, repaired, reused, or recycled.
Stage 4: Release
In this stage, designers finalize the design of the product or system and prepare it for production. This may involve refining the design, testing prototypes, and developing a plan for manufacturing, distribution, and use.
Strategies for circular design
In every stage of a business, there’s a scope to integrate circularity. It can come in various shapes and forms but eventually, a slight change can also create a big impact if a business operates at scale. There are innumerable ways but some of the frameworks suggested in the circular economy design are:
Dematerialization is a concept related to circular design that refers to the reduction of the amount of physical materials used in a product or system. It is often achieved through the use of technology or design techniques that enable the same functionality to be achieved with fewer materials, or through the use of materials that can be easily recovered, reused, or recycled.
One example of dematerialization in circular design is the use of digital technology to replace physical products or packaging. For example, a company might design an app or platform that allows users to access information or services online, rather than providing physical products or packaging. This can reduce the amount of materials used and also make it easier to update or modify the product over time.
Another example of dematerialization in circular design is the use of lightweight materials or modular designs that enable easy disassembly and reuse. For example, a company might design a product using components that can be easily separated and recycled, rather than using a single, monolithic structure that is difficult to disassemble.
Overall, dematerialization is an important aspect of circular design because it helps to reduce the environmental impact of products and systems, and promotes the efficient use of resources.
Circular Material Choices
There are several factors to consider when making material choices in circular design:
- Durability: Materials that are more durable are likely to have a longer lifespan, which means they can be used for a longer period of time before needing to be replaced. This can reduce the overall environmental impact of a product or system.
- Reusability: Materials that can be easily reused or repurposed are an important consideration in circular design. This could include materials that can be easily disassembled and reused in other products, or materials that can be recycled without loss of quality.
- Recyclability: Materials that can be easily recycled are an important consideration in circular design. This could include materials that are commonly recycled, or materials that can be recycled using existing infrastructure.
- Life cycle assessment: It’s important to consider the entire life cycle of a material, including its extraction, production, use, and disposal. This can help to identify materials that have a lower environmental impact throughout their life cycle.
Product Life Extension
Product life extension refers to strategies and techniques that are used to extend the lifespan of a product. This can be achieved through various means, such as
- repairing and maintaining products,
- upgrading them with new technology or components, or
- reusing them in different ways.
Where can you apply circular design?
Circular design is a very common term with industries like fashion and goods, mainly consumer centric brands because of the increase usage and awareness. But implementation of circular design is possible in almost every industry.
- Manufacturing: Circular design can be applied to the design of products and manufacturing processes to reduce waste and increase the use of renewable resources.
- Construction: Circular design can be applied to the design of buildings and infrastructure to reduce the environmental impact of construction and promote the reuse of materials.
- Fashion: Circular design can be applied to the design of clothing and accessories to reduce waste and promote the reuse and recycling of materials.
- Food and agriculture: Circular design can be applied to the design of food systems and agriculture practices to reduce waste and promote the efficient use of resources.
- Technology: Circular design can be applied to the design of electronic products and systems to reduce waste and promote the reuse and recycling of materials.
Circular design guide
The Circular Design Guide is a collaboration between the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDEO.
Circular design for recycling – what does it mean?
Packaging is an essential component of modern living. It safeguards items and informs customers about essential information. However, the majority of packaging is discarded after a single usage. As a result, many precious materials wind up in the trash.
To bring post-consumer packing to use and complete the loop, package materials’ recyclability must be considered as early as the design stage. Some legislation mandates that packing be constructed to enable recycling. The EU Circular Economy Action Plan and the German Packaging Act, for example, set lofty objectives and goals, such as requiring all packaging manufactured in the EU to be 100 percent reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Why is it important to focus on designing for recycling?
Created, temporarily used, and then discarded: packaging material usage is rapidly rising – and so is the amount of plastic garbage. To build a sustainable economy and safeguard our earth for future, we must radically alter our engagement with plastic. That is, used plastic isn’t always rubbish. Rather, it is a tremendous supply of raw materials that have mostly gone unexplored until now.
Plastic waste is a problem that affects all classes of society, from regulators to companies to the recycling sector to retailers to consumers. Recycling-friendly design for plastic packaging, which would enhance the output and value of recovered materials, is a key tool for tackling this difficulty.
Challenges for adopting circular product design
Finally, there’s the issue of product development. Electronics are an excellent illustration of the product design flaws that recyclers frequently confront.
Electronics include valuable materials such as precious metals. The most straightforward technique to recover recyclable materials is to disassemble the product to maintain the components separately. However, when your smartphone is welded rather than put together.
More contact between designers and recycling is required to be aware of the technology available and the recycling demands. They would be able to take on more responsibilities this way. Designing products with reprocessing in mind would go a long way.
Characteristics of recycling-friendly design
Manufacturers encounter many obstacles when developing their packaging to fulfil future constitutional standards:
Material Packaging with numerous layers of material rapidly becomes a recycling issue. Because this type of packaging cannot be split after use, it must be assigned to a single material percent at the recycling plant. As a result, producers should employ mono-material packaging wherever possible or readily detachable materials. Layoffs should be constructed of the same material as the remainder of the packaging.
· Print / Color
If the sorting machine does not accurately identify the packaging, it is automatically eliminated and will not be repurposed. This is especially frequent with dark-colored packaging. As a result, packaging designers should utilise light or translucent colours, minimise printing on the surface, and avoid metallic textures. Heat-resistant dyes and binders further hamper recycling. Water-soluble substitutes provide a solution to problems.
· Banderoles / Labels
When categorizing systems scan packages to establish the material type, huge labels made of different materials than the packaging might cause the device to mistakenly identify the packing material. To avoid such problems, package producers should instead avoid applying labels altogether or use labels made of the same materials as the packaging. Labels that are water-soluble or quickly removable are a possible option in this case.
· Product sludge
The remaining item in or on packing, such as cleanser or wallpaper, can not only delay the recyclability, but it can also degrade the quality of recyclate substantially. Packaging designers should create packing that is exceptionally easy to remove and sanitize, such as smooth inside surfaces and broad apertures.
The circular economy is more than just recycling
Every year, at least one billion used tyres are discarded. Tires are often burnt or converted into low-quality rubber matting since the rubber is derived from crude oil, which is difficult to recycle. The purpose of a circular economy, on the other hand, is to protect the value of the product and avoid so-called downcycling. The circular ID idea, known as a “product passport” in Europe, is a crucial component of the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan for a resource-saving economy. The identifying label for a product comprises information on the product’s source, structure, repair procedures, and final alternatives.
The move from a straight to a circular economy for packaging materials is critical, particularly in terms of ecological impact. Recyclable packaging is also ecologically friendly. It facilitates gathering, retrieval, and recycling; it minimises the amount of plastic trash and Pollutant emissions; it saves money; and it may be transformed into high-quality byproducts through a closed economy.
We already have the technical filtering capability to enable such a systemic transformation. We require the desire and close collaboration of industry, politics, research, and community. Recycling is important because it requires less resources than removal and disposal; otherwise, it increases, rather than decreases, the carbon footprint.