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5 learnings from a

visit to a recycling facility

What happens to your old vacuum cleaner, washing machine, or router? What happens to that old smartphone or soup mixer?

We were curious too and made a trip to Mirec, a recycling plant with a focus on consumer electronics.

As designers, we have the responsibility to make sure these products can be recycled at the end of their lives in the most efficient way.

Recycling consumer electronics is not only about preventing these products from ending up on a landfill. Urban mining, the process of recovering raw materials from waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), is becoming increasingly more important.

Since more and more natural stocks are getting depleted, companies will be obliged to look into obtaining their raw (and often scarce) materials elsewhere.

According to Recupel, in 2020 we’ve collected 43.7 million devices in Belgium and 92.7% of that e-waste gets a meaningful application.

How might we
, as designers, have a positive impact on those numbers?

Learning 01 Removing batteries is a hassle.

Did you know that it takes about 7 minutes on average to remove a battery from a modern smartphone?

Removing batteries from contemporary electronics is crucial for a clean and safe recycling process. Yet, most products are not designed for disassembly at all, resulting in difficult and sometimes even dangerous battery removal.

Recycling batteries is crucial in many aspects. Not in the least for the reduction of GHG emissions. The GHG emissions of an LMO lithium-ion battery could be reduced by up to 50% over its lifetime if it used recycled cathode, aluminum, and copper instead of entirely virgin materials (Dunn et al., 2012)(Towards the battery of the future, European Commission)

How might we make it easier, faster, and safer to recover precious batteries from electronic products?

Learning 02 Monomaterial over multimaterial.

A general rule of thumb in recycling is: the cleaner the waste stream, the easier it is to recycle it.

Every material added to a design implies an extra step in recycling. Keeping the number of different materials to a minimum, without compromising usability or safety, should be considered during the design stage.

How might we reduce the number of different materials in a product and make sure they are easy to separate?

Learning 03 Design for disassembly

Taking apart discarded electronics is a manual process.
Think hammer and screwdriver. By making devices easier to disassemble, the recycling process can be made a lot more efficient resulting in cleaner waste streams.

The factory workers will be able to process more products per hour and will be able to sort out the different types of material in a better way, improving the business case of urban mining even more.

Furthermore, the 2012 European legislation on WEEE mentions specifically that “Member States shall take appropriate measures so that the ecodesign requirements facilitating re-use and treatment of WEEE (...) and producers do not prevent, through specific design features or manufacturing processes, WEEE from being re-used”

How might we improve disassembly and make it as convenient and time-efficient as assembly?

Learning 04 The right to repair

Quite some electronic devices are nearly impossible to repair. However, the repair would enable us to keep on using our products longer and would lower the pressure on our valuable resources.

Unfortunately, a lot of products are designed in such a way that repair is impossible or too expensive. The right to repair movement is lobbying for new legislation that would make repair options mandatory. You can read more on the right to repair here.

How might companies
embrace the right to repair as a business opportunity?
How might we
as designers design with repair in mind?

Learning 05 Ready to recycle.

When designing products, we think of validating all crucial assumptions before the production starts. We develop prototypes, do all sorts of tests and check the overall functionality of the device.

However, the end-of-life of a product is often not given enough attention. How well can this product be recycled? How can we close the loop and steer away from a linear approach?

The European Commission describes it as “Member states will encourage cooperation between producers and recyclers and measures to promote the design and production of EEE, notably in view of facilitating re-use, dismantling and recovery of WEEE, its components and materials.”

How might we facilitate the cooperation between production companies and recyclers? What if we’d build prototypes for the purpose of validating their recyclability?

How can we improve the end-of-life of your products?

Check out our page on our industrial design skills and cases to see how we make ideas come to life through sketches, 3D modelling and prototyping.

Or, let's have a chat on how we can help you to build more sustainable products!

Contact us

Antwerp office

Klokstraat 16
2600 Antwerp
BTW BE0809.023.055

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