Designers play an essential role in choosing materials that are fit for the circular economy. Not all materials are suitable for use in circular products because they contain chemicals of concern that may be polluting or potentially hazardous for humans or the environment.
Often, a chemical of concern is used because a product designer or manufacturer may be unaware of its potential human and environmental impacts, or because it is critical to the functional performance of the product in question, such as flame retardants and stain repellents.
Through this product redesign workshop, you will obtain an understanding of the implications of integrating safe and circular materials choices in the design process. You’ll explore a number of strategies for replacing and designing out chemicals of concern.
In this method, you will…
- Explore examples of chemicals of concern and how they may be tied to material characteristics.
- Become familiar with screening chemicals in a product.
- Explore how to use different strategies that can help to design out chemicals of concern.
- Reflect on how product design can be linked to implementing safe and circular materials.
The design goal is: redesign a commercial carpet tile to make it safe and circular. Choose a commercial application for a carpet tile. Ask yourself the question or interview one of the workshop participants on the value that a commercial carpet tile brings.
- What are the needs of the user?
- How is it used?
- What features do users value, and which are essential?
Products designed for use in healthcare or educational spaces might require different functionality than those in private homes. A school for instance may prioritize durability and stain resistance to prevent damage from creative activities. However, designing a carpet with safe materials is important in these spaces due to childrens’ higher sensitivity to toxins in their environment.
Homogeneous materials comprise part or all of a product’s makeup. Homogenous materials are defined as having uniform composition and are not, in theory, able to be separated mechanically. The chemical components of a homogeneous material often have characteristics that make the material important to a product’s overall performance and its value to the user.
On the worksheet, some of the chemicals that can be found inhomogeneous materials are listed. These chemicals may be necessary for the material to possess its valuable characteristics.
The next step in the process is to screen the chemicals you selected. The screening process enables you to explore whether there are any known chemicals of concern in the materials. The Material Wise platform includes a free and online screening tool that can help you do this.
Now that you have determined which materials contain known chemicals of concern, you have the information you need to prioritize them for a redesign. But first, take a step back and reflect on what roles those chemicals play in the product.
The circular design encourages us to rethink business models, how we make products, and to consider the system surrounding them, but we also need to think about the materials we use. Whether it’s improving the safety of users or ensuring that resources can be used again and again – it is clear that materials matter.
Not all materials are fit for a circular economy. Some contain chemicals that are hazardous for humans or the environment. Additives are often unintentionally used or used for performance reasons – such as coloring, flexibility, or durability – but there are ways to design them out. If you can choose materials that are safe and circular, you can build a better offering for your users, while ensuring that the products and services you create fit within a circular economy.
The Safe & Circular Strategy Cards are meant to prompt your thinking on different approaches.
- Read all the cards.
- Come up with quick ideas for each of the strategies.
- Select one idea with the group.
- Explain this idea with a visual approach.
Your ideas may include changing materials or chemicals, a more holistic redesign of the product, or even creating new material.
Reflect on the design strategies and approaches you typically use. Where could you include consideration of material health in your own design process? How might you need to change your design strategy to incorporate material health?
To help with these reflections, you might ask the following questions to yourself or the group
- What kind of information do you need to select safe and circular materials for use in your product? How can you access this information?
- How can you work together with your team members and your supply chain to gain access to information on the chemical composition of a material?
- What needs to shift in your design approach to ensure material health is seen as an opportunity and a creative starting point by your team?
- What information and context must be included in the design brief in order to integrate material health and safety into your design process?
- Who from your organisation needs to be involved?
- What kind of expertise is needed on your team to ensure material health considerations are fully addressed? Where and how can you access this expertise?
Pitch your idea to the group. Elaborate on how the implementation of strategies to use safe and circular materials will influence the design process.