Why Circular Design Is For Our Future

(image credit: Carbon Negative Furniture by Pollima)

What if we could reimagine the way we make consumer products? What if there could be a way to not use raw materials from the natural world as a starting point? And suppose there could be products and packaging that didn’t end up as landfill waste or produce unwanted chemicals in our water supplies? Circular design could be the answer to a zero waste reality on our planet.

What is Circular Design?

Circular design may be described differently by different people. But what all these definitions have in common are thoughtful design processes aiming towards the end goal of avoiding landfill waste. According to Tim Brow, IDEO CEO, circular design products are “made to be made again.”

In any case, all circular design products are created with conscious intent from the very beginning, considering their impact on our environment throughout their entire lifespan.

Some circular designed products start with already recycled man-made materials (e.g. Ecopixel’s monopolymer plastic which can be melted and recycled an infinite number of times). Others may start with some type of natural material such as organic cotton, or even mushrooms made into an eco-industrial material like mycelium, developed by a company called Ecovative. Not all circular design products end up being remade into new consumer products. Some are created to simply biodegrade in ways that are healthy for our planet.

With “less waste and more value added to the ecosystem” the reusable capacity of circular designed products ends up being more cost effective, more efficient and less wasteful. In the end, their final stages can somehow be repurposed again (if not biodegraded), and sometimes even created into brand new starting points.

(Mycelium package design by Ecovative)
(Mycelium package design by Ecovative)

Circular Design - A Viable Solution For Actually Living In Harmony With Nature

Most of us already realize that our modern industrial system is heavily dependent on manufacturing to meet the demands of mass consumerism, resulting in enormous amounts of waste and pollution. Many of us dream of realizing the ideal of actually living in harmony with nature instead of degrading the environment.

While it is one thing to want a particular future, there is also the issue of how to achieve it. Circular design is regarded by leading environmental advocates as an actual practical mechanism for steering industrial manufacturing in the direction of perfect balance with nature.

Rethinking the Way We Make Products: Cradle to Cradle Versus Cradle to Grave

Have you ever wondered who first thought of the idea to make things in new ways to avoid environmental waste? This concept first originated in a book by Michael Braungart and William McDonough called Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.

In a cradle-to-cradle paradigm, products never make it into the landfill. Their materials can be recycled infinitely without toxic and/or cancer-causing byproducts.

And furthermore, product development strategies also focus on regenerating nature with greatly reduced dependencies on raw materials.

By contrast, our existing manufacturing processes represent a cradle-to-grave model, producing mostly disposable products that usually end up in our landfills. These products start with raw materials. Once used and have served their purpose, they are often discarded with no thought about their future past this point.

Waste is never a good thing. Not only does it take up landfill space, but also many forms of trash also transmute and degrade, producing harmful chemicals that can permeate into the air, leech into our soil and infiltrate our water systems. Circular design is all about foresight into the long-term impact on our society, the environment and even our health.

Mycelium Table by Grown.Bio
(Mycelium Table by Grown.Bio)

From Circular Design To A Circular Economy

Now, let’s imagine what would happen if all the products in our world were made using circular design. The end result would be a circular economy. How we buy, sell and make goods would shift in favor of the environment, rather than destroying it on a day-to-day basis.

This is the vision being promoted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to rethinking and redesigning the future by bringing awareness and education to the real world relevance of the circular economy framework, inspiring businesses, academia, institutions and policy makers. Besides considering how materials are used, this organization also promotes the sustainable use of renewable energy.

Their underlying ideology is that “nature constructs linear systems while humans set up linear ones.” They hope to “design out waste and pollution” using a new “framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design.”

Circular Design Products

Zuahaza is a textile, rug and basket company based in Barichara, Columbia characterized by a rich history, artisanal culture devoted to their indigenous dying recipes and the sustainable use of natural fibers like organic cotton and fique. With a commitment to a better planet, their vision is to “honor ancestral traditions, while embracing new ways of being.”

After becoming aware of the environmental aftermath left by the conventional textile industry, the brand decided to create high quality, luxury 100% biodegradable textiles (e.g. using virgin organic cotton) with no synthetic chemical dyes or fibers. Everything is derived from nature with the ability to return to nature after their fibers decompose.

Fique Area Rug by Zuahaza
(Fique area rug by Zuahaza)

The CR Bench Brings Together Contemporary Chic With Circular Design

Architects of the Carlo Ratti firm commissioned Grown.bio to create modular arches and benches which can be arranged to create a circle, a snake-like configuration, or be used as singular seating.

Grown.bio used 3D print molds using renewable polymer and filled with mycelium (developed by Ecovative) hemp water and agricultural waste. The final structure was left to grow, harden and gain concrete-like strength.

Understandably, change in taste and desire for new things is always inevitable. If the benches are no longer wanted, they do not have to be thrown away to be left in landfills. Instead, they can be broken apart. The remaining pieces can then be used as compost and fertilizer.

CR Benches by Grown.bio
(CR Benches by Grown.bio)

As more manufacturers are encouraged to incorporate circular design, we will be able to have a much wider range of thoughtfully-made products that we can purchase, use and dispose of to be conveniently recycled and created into new products, or simply to biodegrade and return to their earth’s origins. Nuisance waste may soon be a thing of the past.

Here at Ecoist, we believe in the makers and brands for their innovative products to create healthy planet homes. We hope that as more of us choose circular designed products, we can collectively raise the demand for this form of manufacturing and eventually realize the reality of a circular economy.

We want to share a quotation that was shared by a friend after reading this article - 

"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles and everything tries to be round, everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man and a woman is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves." - Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Holy Man


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