Circular economy movement needs to keep up with design trends

7th June 2017


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Zebrina Hanly

Innovation in product design and consumer trends need to be taken into account when designing circular economy models, a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) has highlighted.

The agency considered what drives product design and how emerging production and consumption trends could enhance or hamper more efficient material use.

For example, the report notes that many products are increasingly designed to provide a wide variety of functions, or provide better functionality while using less material.

As a result, products contain an increasing number of different materials, with small amounts of each individual material. Components are often glued to, or even integrated into, the product body, such as electronic control of ventilation and lighting systems into the infrastructure of buildings, the report noted. Similarly, if products contain batteries that cannot be removed, the whole item becomes hazardous, it stated.

Other examples in the report include:

  • 3D printing. This could be used for printing spare parts so consumers and businesses could repair products themselves, and can more efficient in terms of material use. However, it can also be more wasteful if many different materials are layered throughout one product, as this can damage its recyclability.
  • The rise of e-commerce. This leads to more centralised storage of goods in large warehouses. However, the trend has led to a rise in packaging waste from households.
  • Internet of things. Products that are connected to the internet can be less recyclable, due to the presence of integrated hardware. However, materials recycling could be significantly improved as products would ‘know’ what materials they contained and who manufactured them.
  • Collaborative consumption, where consumers share products such as cars, tools and accommodation. This can reduce the number of products each consumer needs, but can have rebound effects. For example, ‘couch surfing’, where travellers use web platforms to find people they can stay with for free, could lead to higher emissions from transport as by reducing the cost of a holiday and encouraging people to travel more often.

The report concluded that more research is needed into the environmental and economic impacts of these trends, as well as consumer behaviour, particularly in relation to collaborative consumption.

Meanwhile, BSI has launched its circular economy standard BS 8001: 2017. This provides step-by-step guidance on how an organisation can implement circular economy principles in business models.

Specifically, it supports businesses with issues including liability and insurance, logistical concerns, and materials. Guidance is also provided on related business models including leasing, the sharing economy and remanufacturing.

The standard, which is not certifiable, is suitable for all sizes of organisation, at any stage of implementing circular economy thinking, BSI said.

David Fatscher, head of sustainability at BSI, said: ‘BS 8001 was developed to enable organizations to take practical actions to realize the economic and social benefits of the circular economy.’

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