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Our top ten tips to designing out plastic

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Duku's top 10 tips for designing out plastic

At Duku we believe innovative design has an important role to play in reducing plastic in our environment. So, we have put together a top-ten list of ways to reduce your plastic use.

Below are just some of the things you might want to consider if you are serious about reducing the environmental impact of your products.

We can help you to embrace some of these ideas and help you on your way to contributing towards a less wasteful, more environmentally friendly and a less carbon-intensive world.

Avoid ‘lazy’ design

We believe in being better at thinking about the whole life of the product – does the design of the product make repair almost impossible without a complete replacement of the part? Will it prevent recovery of any useful elements at the end of the product’s life?

It’s sometimes easier to stick with the old ways of doing things, rather than asking if the design needs refreshing or completely rethinking.

If you look at many of today’s white goods, they’re a great example of lazy design: where motors, elements, etc. are often out of reach of even the most flexible and competent of repair worker. Costs of repairs often mean it’s cheaper to buy a replacement, consigning the old machine to the scrapheap, where it’s unlikely much can be recycled or reused.

Below are our top ten tips to designing out plastics…

1) Design in reusability and recyclability

Right at the outset, when you are planning and

How will the product be dismantled - can the components be reused and if not, can they be made of a recyclable material? Must they be made of plastic? Is there an alternative? Good design and engineering will help your products last longer.

2) Review to reduce

Maybe you are thinking about adding a new product to or refreshing an existing range. Take this as an opportunity to look at your designs, the manufacturing and production processes with new eyes. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo - challenge your design teams to imagine they were developing the product from scratch and ask what they’d do differently. Solutions don’t have to be expensive, in fact, we often find that it can lead to cost savings.

3) Work with your supply chain

Talk to your suppliers about smart design – tell them what you are looking for when it comes

visibility of their own supply chains – are the materials they work with ethically sourced?

Larger companies are increasingly drilling down to this kind of level when going out to tender, so if both you and your suppliers can provide evidence of your design approach, you’ll have an edge over any competitors who haven’t factored ‘circular economy’ design or a transparent supply chain into their thinking.

4) Think about the small details

Good design, when it comes to the circular economy, isn’t just about thinking big, the small things can really count too. For example, while it might be aesthetically pleasing to have an invisible screw, if making it invisible also makes it inaccessible, maybe this isn’t design at its best. An alternative solution, which means the product will be easier to repair and maintain, will also mean it has a longer life. This is likely to please your customers!

5) Avoid single use wherever possible

We need to wean ourselves off single-use components wherever possible and that means designing in a responsible, thoughtful way. We should aim to get into the good habit of planning for end of life when we’re designing products.

That might mean not using plastic – although we need to be careful of our consideration of other materials to ensure we’re not replacing a single-use plastic item with another material with a high carbon intensity or environmental impact. As an example, it might mean replacing sealed units or push-fit fixings with an alternative.

6) Consider product modularity.

Product modularity can be very effective if you already have a product range. Intelligent design will take into account your existing products and look to design in common components, manufacturing techniques and resources.

This in turn can lower development costs, reduce wastage and resources, save on tooling and spread costs across a product range.

7) Dispose with care!

We often find information on ‘responsible disposal’ on a product’s packaging, but most of us have long-since parted company with this by the time the product has reached the end of its life. Consider whether is possible to place instructions for dismantling and recycling on the product itself, or maybe you can offer a recycling service where the product is returned to you for harvesting of reusable parts and onward disposal.

8) Clean, simple design

Using multiple coloured plastic components or different surface finishing can add complexity when it comes to end of life reuse or recycling. A simpler approach may not only be better environmentally, often it means the product dates less quickly.

9) Learn from and collaborate with others

Never be afraid to look over the fence and see what others are doing to reduce plastics use and employ smarter design.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation, Energy Saving Trust, British Plastics Federation and WRAP are just some of the organisations currently working to help businesses embrace a circular economy model.

10) Don’t be in a race to find the cheapest solution

Plastic can be a fantastic material, it’s often low cost and can be used to great effect. However lazy design can lead to poorly thought-out solutions that break easily and contribute to our ‘throwaway’ culture.

Recycled plastic may cost a bit more, but with good design, it could last longer and give the user a better product experience. End users are actively choosing ethical companies over others and showcasing your ethical design and material sourcing in your product marketing can allow for price rises and be a very effective sales tool.

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