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5 Ways to Eradicate Single-Life Products Using Circular Design

Time to Eradicate Single-Life Products for Good!

You heard it here first! YOLO should not apply to products! No product on this great green earth of ours should ever have to utter the phrase YOLO and believe it to be true! It’s time we find a way to eradicate single-life products for good! (Circular design just might be the way to do it!) (Nobody actually says YOLO anymore anyways, right?)

But wait. ‘Single-life products’ you say? What in the great green world are those? Well…

Single-life products are products that will inevitably end up as waste after they’ve served their initial purpose.

Any product — single-use or reusable — that is impractical to repair or recycle is a single-life product. We buy them, use them, and then we’re forced to chuck them in the rubbish because repairing or recycling them just isn’t a realistic option.

Maybe the product contains too many different materials so recycling it isn’t cost-effective. Maybe repairing it is basically impossible because all the components are glued together!
There are many possible reasons why a product ultimately becomes a single-life one.

Single-life products are products that will inevitably end up as waste after they’ve served their initial purpose.

Whatever those reasons are though, it will nearly always be possible to address them by designing the product differently in the first place. That is where circular design comes in.

Here’s how embracing circular design can help us eradicate single-life products for good.

1. First, Make Products That Last!

Okay so before we even get to the part where we design products that can live happily ever after through multiple lifetimes, it’s important to also place a little focus on that initial lifetime.

See the reason single-life products are such an issue is because basically they are resource-inefficient, and they create waste. Energy, raw materials, and emissions are all required to make each product, and then all of these resources are ultimately wasted when the product ends up in the rubbish.

Factory chimneys situated behind a forest pumping out clouds of emissions.

Every time we make a product, there are consequences for the environment. So we should always do everything we can to design products that last as long as possible. Photo by Daniel Moqvist on Unsplash.

Designing products that don’t end up in the rubbish is the ultimate goal here. But if we want to get the most value out of the many resources that go into making each product, it also makes sense to design products that last as long as possible to begin with.

As keeping products and materials in use is one of the core principles of the circular economy, designing for circularity is the perfect way to do this.

2. Design for Repair

In recent years, especially when it comes to modern electronics, having products repaired has been getting much more difficult. (And more expensive).

But when a product does finally call it quits, what then?

Well ideally you’ll be able to bring it back to life — or give it a second life — by getting it repaired. (Product repair is probably one of the most important weapons we have in the fight against single-life products!)

But in recent years, especially when it comes to modern electronics, having products repaired has been getting much more difficult. (And more expensive).

And yes, you’ve guessed it; many of the factors making products difficult or expensive to repair can be fixed by changing the design.

A really great example of this is what Fairphone are doing with their circular-friendly smartphones.

Fairphone is a perfect example of how circular design can be used to make products easier to repair.

While many smartphone manufacturers seem to be designing their products in a way that makes them unnecessarily difficult to repair (by glueing and soldering components together, using non-standard screws, and not making spare parts available), Fairphone is taking a very different approach.

They design their phones to be as repairable as possible. Each individual component can be easily replaced, all spare parts are available through the Fairphone website, and the phones can easily be disassembled using a standard screwdriver. None of the parts are glued or soldered together, which makes it possible for customers to actually repair the phones themselves. (Probably best to watch a few Youtube guides beforehand though!)

Eradicate single-life products you say? We see Fairphone as proof that careful circular design is already making that possible.

3. Upgradeable, Before Replaceable

Sometimes even when a product is still in full working order people will want to replace it!

Maybe they fancy something with a better camera, a brighter screen, or maybe they just want something new and shiny.

Now we’ll probably never be able to stop people wanting new and shiny things. But especially with tech products, if it’s an upgrade in functionality they’re looking for, there’s no reason they should have to buy a whole new product and ditch the old one.

If designed in a certain way (the circular way), it should be possible for customers to simply upgrade the particular part of a device they’re not happy with. If they fancy a better camera, can’t they just upgrade the camera instead of buying a whole new device? Or maybe they just want a bigger hard drive, or a brighter screen, or even a different kind of USB port?

Laptop with back panel removed, exposing all the individual components.

If only one or two of your device’s components are outdated, should there really be a need to upgrade the entire thing? Photo by Nikolai Chernichenko on Unsplash.

Throwing away an old device because one or two components are outdated makes no sense at all. And thankfully, some brands are already starting to agree.

A company called Framework will soon be launching a laptop where every component from the battery to the speakers to the headphone jack can easily be replaced and upgraded! And this is all down to the clever modular design of the laptop.

With a design like this, there’s no reason you couldn’t keep the same laptop for years and years. All you’d need to do is upgrade an individual part here and there when it stops working or becomes outdated. Meaning basically, your laptop would live forever! (And all because it’s designed with circularity in mind).

4. Design for Recycling

We don’t just mean designing products that can technically be recycled. We mean products should be designed so that recycling is easy and cost-effective.

But for the products that don’t live forever, making them easy to recycle is essential so that they don’t end up as waste. In fact, if you’re really following circular design principles, the ‘recyclability’ of a product should be one of the most important design factors you consider.

And we don’t just mean designing products that can technically be recycled. We mean products should be designed so that recycling is easy and cost-effective. This will usually mean doing things like carefully selecting recycle-friendly materials, making sure products are easy to disassemble, and always making the design as simple as possible.

A wonderful example of this in practice is a circularly-designed (yes circularly is a word!) running shoe Adidas recently released. See the majority of modern shoes are made from loads of different materials, and are usually stitched and glued and moulded together in all sorts of crazy ways. This can make them very difficult to recycle, and so, many of them end up being single-life products.

Adidas have designed a shoe that’s made from one single material. This makes it far far easier to recycle!

But Adidas has cleverly managed to use circular design to get around this issue. By designing a shoe from one single material, using no glue in the process, they have created a product that can easily be recycled into another at end of life. 100% of the raw materials can easily be used again to create another shoe.

Now if that’s not a perfect example of a product having a second life, we don’t know what is.

5. Make End-Of-Life Management The Most Important Feature

The way any product is designed is sure to have a huge impact on what happens to that product once we’re done with it. When you really think about it, it makes sense that getting the design right initially can solve so many problems down the line.

That’s why carefully designing our products to last, and to be repairable, upgradeable, and recyclable is so important.

But if we really want to eradicate single-life products for good, we can’t just settle for doing this some of the time. We need to make it the most important feature of all!

And that is what circular design is all about. Making sure every product is carefully designed with end-of-life management as its most important feature.

If we could convince every manufacturer on earth today to truly embrace circular design in everything they do, we’re positive; no product would ever have to say YOLO again.

This article was created by Adam Millett of Word Chameleon, in collaboration with Circular&Co.