When designing a product, considering what happens after its demise will soon become as important as its performance. How to design for the end of a product's life will be guided by the nature of the product, how long it is expected to be used and its recyclability.
Incorporate sustainability efforts into your product design after a preliminary concept has been developed, but prior to finalizing details for production. Typically once the production-ready design has been completed, the costs associated with making design changes present a barrier to improving the product's sustainability. Be sure to work this into your design process and schedule.
Now let’s take a look at some important factors to consider when designing sustainable products for recycling by the end user.
One of the first factors to consider is the ease of disassembly. If deconstructing a product is a major challenge, users will be discouraged from recycling components and will simply trash the product instead. Make it easy for them! Humans are simple creatures – they like convenience.
An added bonus to easy disassembly is that if the product malfunctions or breaks, the user is more encouraged to take the product apart and replace one component rather than tossing the entire unit in the garbage and replacing it. Repairing is much more sustainable than replacing, so you should strive to make repairs painless for the consumer.
As mentioned above, people like convenience. If recycling your product isn’t convenient or obvious, chances are it will end up in a landfill. Remember: Recycling is not intuitive for some consumers. Don’t forget to remind them! And for those consumers who highly value sustainable products, make it clear that your company shares those values, and your products are designed with the planet's best interests in mind. Your potential customers want to see this information off the bat -- they will not search for it. Interact with propspects and customers through your website, social media accounts and other online media platforms like YouTube.
Product materials will face one of the following outcomes at the end of their lives:
In some countries, and within some product categories, manufacturers are held responsible for the entire lifecycle of a product. This includes recycling and take-back programs to ensure that goods are properly disposed. This concept, called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), was introduced in 1990 by Swedish professor Thomas Lindhqvist.
The US has passed a handful of EPR laws at the state level. California currently leads the country in the number of EPR laws passed. Read more here.
Here is a great reference for more on how to design sustainable products for recycling: Design for Product Lifetime by Autodesk Sustainability Workshop.Related Posts: