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Waste = Food

Circular Economy

Many of us Designers say we want to be sustainable. It is a recurring value of many young Designers. We even consider it a must in today’s society. Sustainability has become a trend. But how can we be sustainable as Designers and how can we design for sustainability? There are many ways of reaching this goal, but one way that I find particularly interesting is Circular Design. 

When we say Circular Design, most of us think of recycling. And indeed recycling is one way in this concept, but there are many more ways. If we look at the Butterfly Diagram about Circular Economy by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (The Butterfly Diagram (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2015a)). It shows not only Recycling, which is part of the Technical Cycles, but there are also Biological Cycles. So on the one hand we have Biological Cycles like making feedstock and biogas from old products. And on the other hand, we have the Technical Cycles, which contain recycling, but also maintenance and reuse of existing things. 

Right now we are living in a more Linear Economy, which can’t sustain itself forever. We depend on cheap materials, cheap energy, and cheap credit. But there are not many feedback loops. I think we have to change this because resources will be harder to get, biodiversity is declining and eventually, it will degrade our financial systems.

Creating Value 

Moving to a more Circular Economy will bring four main values. The first one is sourcing value, which will reduce the costs by creating closed loops. So for example it means that you don’t have to source any new raw materials, old products will be used again and the unfixable products become the raw materials.

Environmental value is the next one, because we will have a better stock and flow of the materials we have. Which comes back to the first point that we don’t have to keep using new materials and use what we have, lowering our carbon footprint and making companies more sustainable. We will also create consumer value in the forms of loyalty, a higher consumer satisfaction and a better brand protection. The customer stays connected with the company because they rent a phone for example. Imagine you break your phone which you rent the company you rent it from will fix it for you because it is in the end their property, creating a better customer satisfaction.At last we have a lot more informational value, because companies get their products back generating information on product failure and complaints.

A main contributor to today’s Linear Economy is that most of our Product Service Models are Product-Oriented. This means that we as Designers focus on making products that consumers can buy. Leading to everybody having many products that become personal possessions. What could help us in the future, I think, would be to move to a more Use-Oriented and Result-Oriented Model. Which means that we are not necessarily owners anymore, but that we buy the result of a product, such as for example printing and then taking the papers you printed or renting phones and giving them back after some time. This also gives Designers the opportunity to design more for these models as they are not that popular yet, you could design a product that is meant to be rented out or just focus on the result that it gives.

The Role of Designers

So what can you do to stimulate this change, to go from a Linear Economy to a more Circular Economy? I think we need all the pieces of the puzzle, but you can be the one that starts that puzzle. The Butterfly Diagram mentions Repair, Refurbishment and Remanufacture. These are things that are done today with some of the products on the market, but not with all of them. As a Designer you can make a conscious decision of making a product that is more Circular Design oriented. For example by designing it in such a way that it is easy to repair, or made of circular resources. Think for example about the possibilities of making replaceable parts. If you chose to glue parts, how will you replace the broken piece? If you would have chosen to use screws, for example, you could have replaced only that specific piece instead of the whole part.  

When you think of making a product, also try to think of the long term life. What will happen with the product if it is broken or is not being used anymore. You can make it easy for retailers to refurbish products or remanufacture them so that they can be put on the market and be used once more.

This is where the title comes from, food = waste one of the four principles for Circular Design. Everything that you consider waste can be used again in different ways, broken products can be fixed and parts can be reused. So before you start designing, think about how you can create a product that never is considered as waste and make sure that it is food for the products and services that come after. We designers have a huge role in this and can make significant changes if we just keep this in mind and try to move to a more sustainable future, every small effort counts!

text Claire Vos

visuals Brent van Herk

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