Mass produced products are proliferating in society, and many cases they are often essential devices, fixtures and fittings that bring functional support, improved safety, convenience, and of course entertainment.
Their utility in everyday life is something many of us take for granted, however their value and service come with impacts and issues that demand environmentally-focused attention across the product life-cycle and throughout the supply chain. The impacts and issues are diverse including:
- The use of non-renewable and scarce resources;
- The use of hazardous, toxic or restricted substances in the production of electronics;
- The generation of solid waste and hazardous waste arising from end-of-life, redundant, obsolete and damaged products including furniture, lighting technologies, floor covering and electronic equipment;
- Emissions to air, water and soil associated with the entire electronics life-cycle but especially the use or operational phase of products;
- Planned obsolescence which can lead to premature disposal of products and associated solid and hazardous wastes;
- The difficulty to repair and refurbish products in a cost effective;
- Waste-related impacts associated with consumables such as batteries;
- Product designs and fixing/fastening methods which work against viable or cost-effective disassembly, reuse, repair and recycling; and
- The social dimension associated with many of the above impacts and issues eg conflict minerals used in manufacturing smartphones.
And many of these issues are being addressed by manufacturers, brands and the wider industry, by governments, by universities and research institutions, by non-government organisations, and by consumers empowering themselves to ensure the right to repair for example.
So the imperative is very clear, especially for those who design, make and specify products and materials. We need to shift from the take-make-waste model of production and consumption to a circular mode of thinking and action. To a significant degree this means:
- Designing out waste and pollution from the outset;
- Prolonging the life of products, components and materials to extract maximum value;
- Closing materials loops and striving for higher levels of widespread upcycling;
- Striving for regenerative and restorative models as opposed to merely doing less harm;
- Decarbonising our products and services and shifting to renewables;
- Working collaboratively across sectors, industries, communities and supply chains;
- Acknowledging that a circular economy requires system-wide redesign; and
- Treating disruption, innovation and creativity as catalysts for positive change and reform
The transition to a circular economy needs collaboration at unprecedented levels and a much more rigorous view of the tools, models, strategies, investments and policies that can deliver next level change. Indeed, designers are well placed to innovate at unprecedented levels in pursuit of responsible prosperity and circular outcomes.
The ability to design-out pollution and waste from the outset will be key measure of success, and designers are the most obvious ‘first responders’.
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