A designer’s guide for a circular economy by Max Hagl
Growth and progress are the engines of our time. But, while the urgency for resources is rapidly growing, we’re already living in a world where raw materials are scarce. The main cause of this problem is our linear system, also known as our disposable society. It seems a collapse is inevitable and the only way out is a circular economy.
In Europe, industries and citizens are now legally obligated to achieve this goal. Experts predict huge benefits for our whole society, environment and businesses, therefore, we should see it as more of an opportunity rather than a burden. But, changes have to be made. And this transformation will have a strong influence on product design, service models and associated businesses.
These scientific predictions and laws for a closed-loop society are promising but, the main flow of media is drifting in another direction. Our personal feeds are filled with straw-boycotts and other anti-plastic propaganda. Often, due to corporate marketing and greenwashing.
It’s understandable that the majority of people view plastics, in general, as evil and the main cause of all our environmental problems. And that now, more and more people are raising their voices and following blindly because they know something is wrong. But, I believe, the ban of plastics is somewhat a scapegoat for society’s failure and how we interact with resources in general.
Our waterways are full of plastics and our environment suffers. It’s frightening how the human species affects the planet. The invention of polymers is not to blame but how we consume and, especially, how we interact with plastic goods after use.
If we’re not sure if we have enough resources for our future and coming generations, we have to stop burning disposals, exploiting new resources and all the accompanying devastation now. We need to think about how we can make existing products and their components last longer. Or maybe even forever.
“THE BAN OF PLASTICS IS SOMEWHAT A SCAPEGOAT FOR SOCIETY’S FAILURE AND HOW WE INTERACT WITH RESOURCES IN GENERAL.”
For this purpose, circulation is the key. And, this doesn’t mean ‘just’ recycling. A circular economy includes much more. It’s also about avoiding certain polymers (such as PVC), energy sources, composite materials and joining techniques. The foundational idea is that every product, service and business model has been developed with strong considerations for their maintenance, redistribution, remanufacturing and resource loops. In addition, consumers should be seen as customers instead.
As simple as this may sound, these considerations have, so far, been ignored in the design of goods and services — a frightening fact. But, planned obsolescence and the incineration of materials are only part of the problem.
It’s now up to us to rethink our products and processes and to create new services to close the loops. It’s our job to make these procedures as easy and as profitable as possible to achieve a strong circular community and keep the oceans clean. This is where design can help!
I truly believe the creative industry has the power to make a change. Design, in particular, is the driver for impact. But, this requires a strong focus and the ability to see the results in context without ignoring facts, intersections and long-term effects.
So, what should we focus on if we want to future-proof our society? As mentioned above, we must support the consumer transformation and increase the efficiency of usage, maintenance, redistribution, remanufacturing and resource loops of every product and service.
Therefore, I’ve created this open toolbox. Feel free to use it. To expand on it. To share it. To discuss it. To persuade others with it. Or, just to keep in mind. It isn’t made exclusively for designers, it’s for humans who believe in change — I hope you’re one of them!