Ecodesign is the fundamental phase of conceiving a product to already predict what its fate will be at the end of its life respecting the principles of circular economy.
The circularity of a product is mainly determined at the ideation and design stage, where certain useful principles are decided in order to make its entire useful life work in a circular manner. To build a product one has to start thinking in detail what the contingencies might be during its useful life while it will be used to perform its main function: the goal is to extend its use over time as much as possible. Ecodesign is also and above all concerned with the product’s end of life, when it can no longer be used, already at the design and conception stage it is necessary to foresee how it can be reused, repaired, disassembled and its parts recycled for use in other supply chains or production cycles thus fully respecting the circular economy.
In ecodesign, circular end-of-life becomes the first design objective
To avoid generating waste and thus decrease its volume, it is important to play ahead. We need to start thinking about the end of life of a product and its final fate already at the planning and design stage, focusing on the type of materials, preferably using those that are recycled or easily recycled, and the reparability and replaceability of these. This prevents the obsolescence of a product by reducing the amount of waste generated. Two important ways of designing a product are therefore Eco-Design and Re-Design.
Eco-Design mainly means designing a new product so that it is more durable (e.g., shelf life or number of uses), is “repairable,” can be more easily disassembled, its parts and components can be easily separated, and, therefore, can be recycled, including working with its suppliers to reduce excess material consumption. Re-Design, on the other hand, is to redesign an object or product to make it new so that it has a different function than the original one. This term means verbatim “to redesign,” and represents a new way of approaching the creation of objects through discarded salvaged materials. Through this philosophy of redesign, it is possible to breathe new life into all those reclaimed materials-such as paper, iron, plastic, wood, and many others-that would normally be considered waste. An example of Re-Design is applied in the automotive industry by Renault, which in its Choisy-Le-Roi manufacturing plant, recovers engines from heavy vehicles by redesigning them for reuse in new vehicles of different types. It is not just a method of redesign through recycling materials, but a real philosophy. In fact, thanks to Re-Design, it is possible to disrupt the usual canons of modern consumerism by drastically reducing waste production.
The Importance of Neo-Materials for a Circular Ecodesign
In an industry where the goal is to reduce raw material consumption and use materials that are easily recyclable and have a low environmental impact, it is essential to find new materials that once they reach their end-of-life are easily recyclable, consequently reducing waste production. Materials are thus the “physical protagonists” of industrial production, which are defined as circular materials because they are obtained from renewable or renewed sources, and transformed following resource conservation logic.
With this in mind, three major families of circular materials have been identified: bio-based, neo-classical, and ex-novo.
The first family includes those materials that are based on natural cycles of development within the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as the world of microorganisms. These are materials whose use has been renewed through processes and technologies that have extended their applications to new areas, allowing them to be exploited more intelligently and without waste.
“Neo-classical” materials, on the other hand, are those materials that have been recycled and now permanently entered into various production processes. Recycling is a practice with countless advantages: it reduces environmental damage caused by other types of disposal, such as landfill or incineration, reduces consumption of natural resources, lowers production costs and CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
The third category is “ex novo.” This is an extremely heterogeneous family, made up of materials that we could define as “final” because they are positioned at the end of the production and disposal chains: waste from transformation processes of bio-based raw materials destined for food and cosmetic use, effluents from industrial processing or sewage treatment plants, demolition materials, post-incineration dust and road sweeping soils. It is a world of materials that are considered to be at an end of the road, but which instead give rise to sometimes very interesting reuse projects in which, alongside processing technologies and processes, the development of the logistics needed to build collection and recovery systems becomes relevant.
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