Circular Composites by Design: Testing a Design Method in Industry
The design of composite products for a circular economy is challenging. Materials such as glass-fibre-reinforced plastics have long product lifetimes but are hard to recycle. For the effective reuse and recycling of products, parts, and materials, recovery strategies must be selected and implemented in the product design stage. This extends the scope and complexity of the design process and requires additional skills from the designers. We developed a novel circular composites design method for products containing composite materials to support designers and improve product circularity. This method, which is the first of its kind to address the circular design of composite products, helps designers explore recovery pathways and generate design solutions.
In this study, we evaluated the method’s effectiveness, accessibility, and usability in design practice. We tested the method with five design case studies in the construction, furniture, and automotive industries. The method was used to generate, evaluate, communicate, and detail product designs. We found that two of the five cases used the method to develop circular product concepts. In the other three cases, recycling rather than product-level recovery strategies was the result, with a focus on improving the material formulations instead of the overall product design. Although the designers considered the method accessible and usable, its effectiveness was restricted by the existing business, logistics, reprocessing technology, and policy contexts. These factors are intertwined and partly dictate the boundary conditions of the design, which means that to successfully implement the proposed method, the transition to a circular economy requires a holistic approach to adjust the design process, organisations, and value chains.
The full article is published open access in Sustainability.