Designing a product begins with research, carefully investigating needs and user-experience. It leads to ideation, and after brainstorming on how to solve the problem; multiple iterations of design and material exploration takes place. After that, if it is feasible and potentially profitable, within the confines of modern business. At that point, the product goes in mass production, marketed, and then it’s rolled out. This process has multiple stages and is way more comprehensive.
Products, just like people, have life cycles. From inception, through design engineering and manufacturing, its usage and disposal. The process of strategizing ways to constantly support and maintain a product is called product life cycle management.
In all the stages of its production, waste is generated. But, how do we define waste? According to the dictionary, waste is any substance which is discarded after its primary use, or is worthless, defective and of no use. Waste reduction (or prevention) is the preferred approach to waste management because waste that never gets created doesn’t have to be managed.
To reduce the amount of waste it involves designing products and processes and/or changing societal patterns of consumption and production. Moreover, over past few decades , due to marketing and advertising, we do not care about the materiality of the goods, instead more focused on which product is important for their symbolic meaning , what they do to position us in the status system.
Traditionally, waste management focused on processing waste after it is created, concentrating on re-use, recycling, and waste-to-energy conversion. However, now waste minimization is taken into consideration during the design and manufacturing process. For instance: Reuse of scrap material: scrap is immediately re-incorporated in the manufacturing line so that they do not become a waste product.
Waste exchanges: This is where the waste product of one process becomes the raw material for another process. Waste exchanges is another way of reducing waste disposal volumes for waste that cannot be eliminated. As it is said one man’s waste is another man’s treasure.
Packaging: To source sustainable raw materials to fulfill packaging needs. Materials like corn-based plastic is encouraged as it can be broken down in a commercial composting facility. Biodegradable packaging decomposes when it is exposed to daylight ,hence, it is a good alternative.
Reducing the number of components used in a product or making the product easier to take apart can make it easier to be repaired or recycled at the end of its useful life.
In some cases, it may be best not to minimize the amount of raw materials used to make a product, but instead reduce the volume or toxicity of the waste created at the end of a product’s life, or the environmental impact of its use.
Is Improving durability, a solution? It depends on the industry. In Furniture and lifestyle product industry, improving durability benefits its life cycle as well as its environmental impacts. Also, in consumer electronics, for instance, extending a vacuum cleaner’s useful life to 15 years instead of 12, can reduce waste and usually much improves resource optimization.
But in other cases, it has a negative environmental consequences. If a product has a longer durability, its replacement with more competent technology is likely to be delayed. Therefore, extending an older machine’s useful life may place a heavier burden on the environment than scrapping it, recycling its component materials and buying a new model. Just like older automobile vehicles consume more fuel and produce more emissions than their modern counterparts. Many choices involve trade-offs of environmental impact, but sometimes there isn’t enough guidance to make informed decisions.
The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. However, many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled , but down-cycled, they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further down-cycled, and eventually these products do end up in landfill.
Largely, waste as such, however minimal, can never be avoided (there will always be an end-of-life even for recycled products and materials).
The Ultimate Goal Is — Pollution Prevention.
The bigger question here is, how can we design a system where we can prevent/reduce pollution in a sustainable way?