Circular design is designing of a cycle in which resources are continuously cycled in various forms, following a reuse and recycle loop. These resources therefore do not go to waste. Waste indeed is waste if you call it that – because someone’s waste might be someone else’s treasure.

Currently many of our products, services, and businesses follow the traditional take-make-dispose economy. Circular design calls for a closed loop, where resources are continuously repurposed.

The best example to put forward here is that of nature. Many natural process exist in which elements are continuously cycled in various forms e.g., air, water, soil. Examples include the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles (nutrient cycles) and the water cycle.

A nutrient cycle (or ecological recycling) is the movement and exchange of organic and inorganic matter back into the production of matter. Energy flow is an unidirectional and noncyclic pathway, whereas the movement of nutrients is cyclic. Therefore, circular design is in a way the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes. This is known as biomimicry.

Isn’t it an amazing concept? What do you think?

From Linear to Circular Economy

 

1. Linear Economy vs Reuse Economy vs Circular Economy: For a long time, our economy has been ‘linear’. This means that raw materials are used to make a product, and after its use any waste (e.g. packaging) is thrown away. In an economy based on recycling, materials are reused. Within a linear economy, reuse is mainly seen in downcycling practices: a (part of a) product is used for a low grade purpose which reduces the value of the material, and complicated the reuse possibilities of the material in a third life. For example: concrete is shredded and used as road filament.

 

2. Cradle to Cradle vs Cradle to Grave: Cradle-to-cradle design (also referred to as Cradle to Cradle, C2C, cradle 2 cradle, or regenerative design) is a biomimetic approach to the design of products and systems that models human industry on nature’s processes viewing materials as nutrients circulating in healthy, safe metabolisms. The term itself is a play on the popular corporate phrase “Cradle to Grave,” implying that the C2C model is sustainable and considerate of life and future generations (i.e. from the birth, or “cradle,” of one generation to the next versus from birth to death, or “grave,” within the same generation).

3D Printing and the Circular Economy

 

3D printing means printing material to create a three-dimensional object using a 3-D printer that uses model programming. 3D printing is used in both rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing (adding material layer by layer). Here’s a video that explains it really well:

Most common material used to make 3-D prints is plastic. But, how is this related to circular design? When waste materials are used instead of virgin materials, we are essentially incorporating the circular economy model into this system. For example a startup in India, Social Seva, is turning plastic waste into filament for 3D printers while employing local waste pickers.

What Makes Something Hard to Recycle?

 

It could be the design of the product, or lack of recycling technologies, or presence of hazardous chemicals in the product. In spite of existing separation technologies, some products are designed in such a way that it makes it simply impossible to recycle them! Harder separation also requires more energy, more money, more time. Hard to recycle products therefore end up in the landfill instead of coming back into the loop.

There are two ways to design something in a green way:

1. Design for Recycling (DfR) or Design for Dismantling (DfD)

2. Dematerialization. DfR promotes material loops whereas dematerialization designs with less material.

 

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, (ISRI) Design for Recycling® initiative encourages manufacturers to think about the ultimate destiny of their products during the design-stage of a product’s development. ISRI believes that the following principles should be applied.

1. Making Consumer Products Recyclable

2. Reducing Environmental Risks From Consumer Products

3. Controlling Special Environmental Problems

4. Assistance to Manufacturers of Consumer Durables

 

Modular design, or “modularity in design”, for example, is a design approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules, that can be independently created and then used in different systems.

The design can be customized to unique consumer needs – the more the product is closer to a consumer’s needs more are the chances that the consumer will keep using and reusing the product instead of throwing it away. Whenever a module(s) stops working, it can be replaced by another similar module instead of replacing the entire product. Recycling of an entire product can be sometimes very complex but recycling of individual modules makes it easy for recycling. This reduces waste and keeps the resources in the loop.

See Module Design

Are there products out there that incorporate this design strategy? Yes, many!

* Modular shoes: Mime et moi comes with convertible height heels that offer seven interchangeable bottoms.
* Modular phones: Google, LG, Lenovo, Phoneblocks and Fairphone
* Modular watches: Blocks modular smartwatch
* Modular laptops: Infinity One modular laptop
* Modular houses: MADI modular tiny house

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