RSA: Radical action on waste hinges on challenging the design brief

New dialogues need to be brokered between designers, suppliers and waste management companies to facilitate the level of collaboration required to transform thinking around end-of-life materials.

This was one of the key messages to come out of a report released this week by the RSA and Technology Strategy Board that investigates the role of design within the emerging circular economy.

The document summarises the learning of the first phase of the Great Recovery project – an initiative which is bringing key stakeholder groups together to deepen understanding around eco-design and material use.

The study sets out four key design approaches upon which closed loop processes could be built. These are: designing for longevity; designing for leasing/service; designing for reuse in manufacture; designing for material recovery.

All of these models require businesses to rethink their design briefs in order to build new business models incorporating resource efficiency and closed loop principles, taking account of origin, longevity, environmental impact and end-of-life.

To accelerate this systems thinking however, new technological partnerships must be fostered between designers, suppliers and the waste sector.

“Short lifecycle products such as fast-moving consumer goods should be redesigned to prioritise full material recovery,” the report states.

“Packaging design briefs must match the capability of our recover facilities to where innovation occurs, it must occur on both sides.”

A series of measures such as built-in incentives to develop and design new industrial symbiotic relationships in business are called for, as well as rewarding consumer behaviour to encourage collaborative sharing and leasing arrangements of products and services.

“Build the debate around ownership and how we effect this in the approach to design, and build a movement to redefine the connection with stuff we consume,” the report states.

Those leading the Great Recovery Project are also calling for greater business transparency, where supply chains are opened up to scrutiny. This will enable bad practice through “cheap global production” to be exposed and questioned.

On a policy level, the Government could amore to make legislation and accreditation fit for circularity, according to the report. Reviewing laws that currently hinder remanufacturing with used components, for instance, making repair an expensive option for business.

Some level of investigation into accreditation systems for recycled materials is also needed.

“Begin to comprehensively test recycled resource materials so that they have the potential to attain grade quality levels that are equivalent to their virgin counterparts. This will build confidence for designers to specify and open up new markets for recovering and reprocessing,” the report states.

The Great Recovery Project is one of the support partners of our Resource Revolution campaign. You can read up on the Revolution so far here.

Maxine Perella

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