Circular design: the art of keeping products and materials in use

in Sustainable Design

Keep products and materials in use is one of the founding principles of a circular economy model.
Like two sides of the same coin, this principle includes two complementary aspects: replacing virgin resources with recycled inputs when making new products, and designing products that last as long as possible in the first place.

Let's then explore some insights and connections that come from keeping products and materials in use, with examples from sustainable interior design.

Keep materials in use

Producing new objects shouldn’t necessarily need new materials.
In fact, the useful life of materials is often much longer than the one of the objects they’re used for.
Reusing the same materials for multiple production cycles is then a viable, efficient and intelligent choice that opens to interesting stories…

Connecting industries

Besides being a sustainable move, recycling production offcuts and discarded products is an opportunity to build a bridge between industries.

For instance, waste from the fashion industry can be used for interior products and vice versa. This is quite straightforward if we think about it, but in real life we often look at industries as independent silos, forgetting that – from a sustainability point of view – what counts is the cumulative effect of all industries on the environment.

Discover on SforSustainable:

A pile of woven baskets.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: EA-Déco (opened in a new window/tab)
Wall lamps made with scrap fabric mounted on a white wall.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Market Set (opened in a new window/tab)

Translating material properties

Keeping materials in use also means repurposing existing components for new uses. This approach looks beyond individual industries and concentrates on physical properties instead.

An example? A sailing boat can be separated into several components, among which are sails. From a practical point of view, sails are waterproof and hard-wearing pieces of fabric. So why not repurpose them as outdoor-safe textiles?

Discover on SforSustainable:

Top down view of a pool side with a deckchair and cushions made repurposing sails.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Les Toiles du Large (opened in a new window/tab)

Continuing stories through objects

Objects often become symbols of fascinating stories. And reusing old materials can make those stories last in time.

Winemaking is one of those processes whose charm can be transported out of caves and into homes thanks to interior objects that repurpose waste at the same time...

Discover on SforSustainable:

Close-up of a vintage wood tray.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Provence Platters (opened in a new window/tab)

Keep products in use

What we’ve seen so far are all examples of keeping materials in use.
Keeping products in use is the other side of the coin, which calls for extending product lifecycles as much as possible.

Making sturdy products that are meant to last long is the starting point. On top of this, it’s important to think about options in case a product gets damaged or breaks down along the way.

Open for repairs

Repairing is an old skill that got lost in recent times. An interesting way of bringing it back into the furniture industry is offering spare parts that give end-users the chance to restore damaged pieces.

Discover on SforSustainable:

Front view of a wooden chair with an abstract artwork behind it.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Takt (opened in a new window/tab)
Front view of a wood shelving unit hit by the sun.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DIZY (opened in a new window/tab)

Adapting to life

Needs change over time and objects should be able to evolve accordingly. A product that can adapt to new needs remains relevant, and its owner will automatically keep it in use.

Discover on SforSustainable:

Side view of a wooden transformable sofa.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bisame (opened in a new window/tab)
Booth layout with outdoor furniture.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Nola (opened in a new window/tab)

Take-back programs

Keeping products in use requires giving more options to the end-user. But we should also consider that people might – for a number of reasons – need to part with certain objects.
This opens big questions about how to dispose of old pieces and what to do with pieces that are still in good condition.

Take-back programs are a solution that benefits all parties.
End-users get a sustainable answer to their dilemmas. Manufacturers save on production costs as they recycle materials or reuse existing components in new products.

Compared to leaving the disposal question open, take-back programs generate less waste while saving virgin resources.

Discover on SforSustainable:

A woman lying in bed.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Auping (opened in a new window/tab)
Embroidered artworks made with repurposed textiles.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Wasteless Wonders (opened in a new window/tab)
Wool felt lamp hanging next to a sofa.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: LumaLano (opened in a new window/tab)

 
 
To sum up, embracing closed-loop principles is not just a sustainable design goal. It's also an art that revives stories and connects industries through the many lives of a material.
An art that allows products to carry personal life stories through adaptations and repairs.
An art that tells a story of respect for our planet and its resources.

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