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Circular Design: The Future of Design

Our current economy and the way we live in general is considered linear. We get the raw materials, make it into products or buildings then we throw it away in landfills when we are done with them. That’s why we have become what is called a throwaway society. Circular design will allow us to reuse (nearly) all the materials we extract in the future. This will create a lot less waste and will prevent more ecosystems from being destroyed since we could use what we already have.

We are the only species on the planet that produces things that nature can’t recycle. Nothing else in the world produces waste. For instance, when trees lose their leaves, they are broken down by decomposers and the soil takes in all the nutrients. 

The bottom line is that in the natural world, everything gets recycled. We too need to readopt this mentality.

We cannot have sustainable design without considering circular design.

Sustainable design can’t be achieved unless it is designed for the circular economy. The main principle behind circular design is eliminating the need to throw something in the bin. This can be done in various ways. 

Related: Ethical Design Explained

Key concepts

Circular design is not some new, revolutionary concept. It’s how nature has always worked and it’s how humans used to live before we started becoming a modern civilization.

At this moment, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. Soon there will be 10 billion. The earth will not be able to cope with 10 billion people and their careless, consumerist lives. We need to rethink how we live and change as soon as we can.

There are infinite ways to create and produce a product for the circular economy. It’s not just about recycling like most people think when they hear circular design. This is only part of the answer. A lot more needs to be done to achieve a circular economy.

Reuse

If we reuse everything we already have we won’t need to make nearly as much stuff as we do now. In addition, most things will have come from recycled or used materials.

Circular design aims to keep resources in a closed loop instead of the current ‘make, use, discard’ system the world currently follows.

Upcycle

Before you recycle something, think if you can reuse it and repurpose it in some way. It usually takes a bit of creativity to do this. It’s all about taking a product and using it in a different way, for something it wasn’t designed for. For example, turning a plastic bottle into a pencil holder or turning a skateboard into a self.

An inspiring example is these clever individuals who came up with the idea of turning discarded fishing nets into plastic skateboards. It removes nets from the ocean which pose risk to marine life and make something that people will find useful.

In the future, I would like to see companies upcycling too by finding innovative ways to use what we already have to produce new products.

Refurbish

This applies mainly to electronic devices. After you stop using it, you can send your phone or laptop back from where you got it from and they will refurbish it and sell it to someone else. It will be as good as new. Buying refurbished is always the preferable option because it keeps products in use for longer.

Repair

Products need to be easy to repair. Or maybe the company could repair it for you and then send it back. If products are impossible to repair, then they will inevitably end up in the bin after a short while. For example, iPhones cannot be repaired by the average individual which is why when they break, the first thought that comes into their mind is to buy a new one. But we can make products repairable by making it easier to substitute broken parts.

Remanufacture

Individual parts can be used again to make new products. This is why it’s important to design items in a way in which they can be disassembled. Imagine building products like building legos. The materials could easily be taken apart and reuse for something else.

Recycle

Recycling should not be the first option but it can still play an important part. For example, used paper can be recycled to produce new paper. Buying recycled paper is a much better option than buying high-quality paper because it requires less energy to produce. Recycling once again keeps materials in a closed-loop.

Longlasting

It must be durable. Always choose quality over quantity. Why make a product that can only last for a few days or weeks. If we want to reduce waste, we need to reduce how much we manufacture, and to do this we must use what we have for as long as possible.

Fewer Materials

Using the least amount of materials is a good way to reduce our consumption of natural resources. If possible, even make it digital to eliminate materials altogether. This is one of the things sustainable design aims to do. Creating the same or greater effect using less.

Reduce Waste

All of the above aim to do one thing. Reduce the waste that goes to landfill. In reality, when we throw something away, it doesn’t really really go away. It stays on this planet but it is simply out of sight. While it’s easy to ignore now since the problem is not affecting us, if society continues on this path, it could cause ecosystem collapse and our very existence could become at risk.

Circular Economy

We are currently in what is called a linear economy. In the near future, we need to see a change towards a circular economy. To see this change, we must take action on an individual, local, and global scale.

When we transform our society to a circular economy, the world will be a whole different place. In a good way. You will not see any single-use products and you will use your bin a whole lot less. The world will work in a very efficient manner, wasting the least amount of energy possible.

Better For The Planet

There are so many ways in which circular design is better than the current linear system. Circular design requires fewer materials, produces fewer greenhouse gases, reduces landfill waste (and ocean waste), materials and nutrients are returned back to earth and it is a much more efficient way for the world to work in general. It is after all how we were meant to live.

More Profit

By reducing the need to extract new raw materials, costs are cut down considerably. Using recycled materials or upcycling materials really makes manufacturing a lot cheaper.

On top of that, companies and businesses that focus on green solutions tend to have higher profits overall.

This will become even more noticeable in the future. The main reason is that more people are refusing to support destructive companies and would rather put their money on companies that are helping the world.

circular economy

Examples

Patagonia

Patagonia must be of the best examples of circular design. If you are not familiar with it, it’s a store for outdoor clothing and gear. First of all, it’s high quality which means it will last a very long time. But that’s not all. What makes Patagonia special is that you send back your clothes and gear to be repaired which they then send it back to you and when you don’t want something anymore, you can send it back so you don’t have to bin it.

Fairphone

Fairphone is a great example of how phones can be designed for the circular economy. Before with the Nokia brick phones, at least you could replace the battery if it wasn’t working anymore. With a smartphone, if one thing breaks you need to buy a whole new phone. 

Fairphone gives you the option to replace every component if something breaks so it lasts for a lot longer. You can even update it by purchasing a different component rather than buying a new phone. Moving forward all design must be sustainable and ethical.

Our New Future

What if we design a society where instead of throwing away to get new updated stuff, we can return our broken and old stuff to be renewed and then sent back to us? Changing our general mind around design is crucial. Every stage has to be considered. From how we extract raw materials to how will it be disposed of at the end.

We need to redesign the world from clothes to business and even entire cities. In general, we need to change our culture in order to move away from this toxic behavior.

Every time you throw away your phone or dishwasher to buy a newer one, you are throwing away valuable finite resources that took energy to make. These end up in landfills and we will never be able to use those materials again. Did that ever cross your mind? 

Considering how much waste we have, we could even start using that waste to make new products. There are so many possibilities. This will no doubt be the next big thing in design. With all the environmental challenges, there is no other way. Circular design is the future.

Conclusion

We are throwing away capital, resources, and energy in landfills. This throwaway culture is only increasing waste, reduce our land space, and killing precious biodiversity.

Humans must learn to live as nature operates. In a circular fashion. We must rethink and redesign everything. Currently, nearly all products are made for the linear economy. We often can’t reuse or recycle them because they were designed to end up in landfills.

If you are a designer start creating a better world. If the world had a circular economy, so many of our problems would be solved.

Author

  • I've always cared about the planet but never knew how I could use my skills to create an impact. But that's when I decided to start Terra Movement. To get other creatives involved in the climate movement and inspire more people to help the planet and its people.

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