How to Design Eco-friendly Products to Build a Cleaner Planet

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Introduction

A great way to reduce the amount of harmful plastic that heads to landfill or worse, pollutes our oceans every day is by incorporating eco-friendly products in our daily lives. 

Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. The environment and nature alike are dramatically affected by this plastic pollution. Indeed, around 1 million seabirds & 100,000 mammals die at the hands of plastic waste every year.

It’s time that we turn the tide and make a change. To aid in fixing this issue as product designers of today we must focus on creating products that not only preserve the environment but have longer lifespans than current products too!

In this article we will discuss how to design eco-friendly products so that we can build a cleaner planet.

Firstly... what is an 'eco-friendly product'?

According to ‘all-recycling-facts’, eco-friendly products are “products that do not harm the environment whether in their production, use or disposal”.

In other words, eco-friendly products help maintain and preserve the environment. Potential harm to the environment is carefully considered at every stage whether that be during the product’s initial production or during its disposal at the end of its useful life.

Image by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

In order to reduce the 8 million pieces of plastic waste that pollute the oceans daily it is important that more eco-friendly products are designed and used, and also that the companies producing them are supported, so that we build a cleaner planet together.

Improving on current product design

There are a great number of products on the market that provide their users with huge amounts of value during their lifespan. Factors like material selection and designing the product for the end of its life could, however, be improved.

Currently, the materials used for some products can be detrimental to the environment both in their extraction from the earth and also the disposal when the product comes to the end of its lifetime.

e.g. smartphones

Let’s take smartphones as an example – the vast majority of us have them, but they could be designed to be more eco-friendly.

  • Electronics account for up to 70% of landfill’s toxic waste
  • All smartphones contain hazardous chemicals that need to be disposed of properly and often are not
  • All smartphones contain minerals that need to be extracted from the earth’s surface in large quantities
  • Although up to 80% of smartphones components are recyclable, recycling smartphones is rather difficult. They are not reusable once they come to the end of their lives and they are difficult to disassemble for recycling

Smartphones are pretty complex products, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be better designed with the environment more in mind.

 

Image by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

A more eco-friendly design of smartphones may include:

  • Designing the individual components that fail regularly to be more easily removable and replaceable, whilst also making the phone as a whole more easily recyclable
  • Allowing costumers to have their very phone upgraded by the manufacturer (e.g. the manufacturer updates your camera to what would normally be on the newer version), therefore avoiding the constant need to buy newer and newer. 
  • Designing smartphones to be built to last. Part of this means removing ‘in-built obsolescence’, therefore reducing the quantity of phones that are manufactured and that are thrown away.

It’s up to the product designers of today to produce and create products whose every aspect does minimal harm to the environment and the planet alike. We like call this ‘eco-friendly end-to-end design’.

Eco-friendly end-to-end design

Eco-friendly end-to-end design is all about designing a product from creation to its end of life so that it has minimal impact on the environment in all stages.

If we designed more products with nature in mind at every stage it would dramatically reduce the amount of waste that reaches the oceans. Perhaps the most important aspect of this is choosing the correct materials.

Material Selection

Every product that we see around us is made from some from of material. The materials we choose could be the difference between landfill/ocean waste and no harm to nature at all.

A truly eco-friendly product must be made out of materials that not only maximise the lifespan of the product but, when disposed of, can either be recycled, reused, repurposed or can biodegrade and go back into nature.

Some great eco-friendly material choices include:

  • Bamboo – a naturally pest resistant plant that grows quickly and requires no pesticides
  • Jute – a durable and hard-wearing plant-fibre great for reusable bags  
  • Cork – a truly eco-friendly material that supports biodiversity
  • Hemp – a very strong and versatile plant that is used in products from carpets to sunglasses. 
  • Glass – used since around 3600, glass is a food-safe, chemically inert material made from natural resources
  • Stainless steel – a 100% recyclable material, stainless steel can be recycled infinitely

If you are interested in incorporating these materials into your designs you can learn more about them here: Materials to build a cleaner planet

Cork - one of our favourite materials

Cork is a truly sustainable material, harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree. When the cork is harvested the tree keeps on living and simply produces more bark in its place. The cork tree replaces its cork every 9 years. Cork forests are also home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity among forest habitats

Endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Imperial Eagle and the Barbary Deer live in Cork Oak forests. The sustainable harvesting of cork does not harm these species in anyway, nor does it take away their home since the cork grows back. 

Rather, an increased use of cork would lead to the growth of more cork trees, therefore providing more land for these species to live in. This is one of the best examples of a human-nature balanced system. Supporting and using materials like cork is vital to winning the battle against plastic.

The video shows our protective cork sleeve for our new glass straw product. By harnessing the properties of cork we have not only created a glass straw that will be protected better than others, but we have also supported nature in the process

Protective glass straw sleeve made from sustainably harvested Portuguese cork!

Don't forget the packaging!

Good packaging design is so important but unfortunately is often overlooked.

It is so important to choose  packaging materials that are recyclable, reusable and/or returnable. Examples of good materials to use include glass, metal, card and paper. We believe that plastics are best avoided in packaging for eco-friendly products wherever possible.

Our eco-friendly packaging design

Our new Ultimate Glass Straw Set has been specifically designed to be as eco-friendly as possible. ‘Eco-friendly end-to-end’ is at the heart its design and all aspects of the product are either, recyclable or reusable. 

Packaging Details:

  • 100% recycled card that is itself 100% recyclable
  • UK manufactured to reduce our company carbon-footprint
  • Can be repurposed as a storage container. e.g. for stationary

This packaging will be coupled with our new

Ultimate Glass Straw set:

  • Borosilicate glass straws – 100% recyclable
  • Cork Sleeve – sustainably harvested from living cork trees in Portugal
  • Jute Storage Bag – Made from natural plant-fibre (vegan)
  • Handy Cleaning Brush – Made from stainless steel and recyclable nylon 
  • Packaging – 100% recycled and recyclable 

This product will be available at the start of next month (June 2020) for our social media following.

Final Thoughts

In summary, a well designed eco-friendly product should be have nature in mind from start to finish:

  • Packaging – needs to be be recycled, reused and or returned so that it does minimal harm to the environment and oceans.
  • During the products use –  Materials must be chosen wisely so that your product leaches no toxins into the environment and is built to last.  
  • End of Life – If the product you have designed should break or, once it comes to the end of its life, the materials that you have chosen should mean that it can be reused, recycled and/or repurposed

With all of the above design aspects in place, you are well on the way to designing a truly eco-friendly product that does minimal harm to the environment. 

 
Thanks for reading

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Written by:

Sam, Founder, Product Designer 

I’m a design and manufacture engineer and have loved design since I can remember. I wanted to put my knowledge to good use and tackle the problem that is plastic pollution so I created WiseSip.

We design and assemble unique, reusable products here in the UK.

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