Ecology + Design?

University essay from Lunds universitet/Industridesign

Abstract: How can design be used to minimize negative environmental impact? I strongly believe that we, human beings, are facing an unavoidable paradigm shift. The world we have created for ourselves is a ticking bomb and we need to rethink the fundamental system in order to have a future at all. In this project the goal was to understand what role design can play in the process of reaching a more sustainable society, and to see how the design of an object affects the global production system and our earth. I decided to focus on the ecological aspect of sustainability and investigate how it can be included in the design process. In nature there is no such thing as waste. The ecosystem is optimized in a closed loop where leftovers from one process are a resource in another. All parts are closely related in a complex symbiotic system. Inspired by natural systems, this project has been an attempt to find a more holistic and sustainable approach to design by applying cyclical thinking to the design process. The first part of the project was very theoretical, including a lot of research and reading to collect all necessary knowledge. The research consisted of learning about Eco design methods, recycling processes and manufacturing techniques, as well as by practicing system thinking. A deeper understanding of consumer behaviours was also an important part in identifying what designers can do to change existing patterns. The theoretical phase was followed by a reflective part where important conclusions, that became cornerstones for the project, where made. These conclusions where then applied and tested during the practical phase. During the whole project the aspect of zooming in and zooming out has been important to understand how the system at macro scale affects the microscopic parts in it, and vice versa. I think designers have a great opportunity to influence the global system and change living patterns into a future balance between ecology, economy and social aspects. With a unique overview and possibility to affect different parts of the system, such as users and producers, we need to act responsibly. To visualise my research and conclusions, I chose to work with the toothbrush. It is an everyday product with a short life cycle, and therefore important to recycle after usage. The necessity of the product it self is justified from a sustainable point of view, as people need to maintain basic mouth hygiene. The biggest problem with the toothbrush today is the complex combinations of different materials, which makes recycling impossible. The final concept, “My precious toothbrush”, is based on European waste regulations and strives to minimize waste by providing a reusable toothbrush handle and a recyclable toothbrush head. Because of the complexity in choosing the right material for the handle, two different concepts were developed. Both handles are designed to achieve a longer life cycle with proper care. One handle is produced from recycled aluminium, and the other from birch branches and other leftover pieces. The toothbrush heads are made from 100 % polyamide and can be recycled up to ten times. After usage, the heads are sent back to the factory for reprocessing. The material is then used in processes where the demand on material quality is lower, such as in the construction sector. In addition to the toothbrushes a distribution system based on the "take back" strategy was designed, to facilitate recycling of the used heads. The cyclic system works with two reusable metal cases; one to store the toothbrush, and one as a refill case for distributing used and unused heads. This project has been a starting point for me and a motivation for my future career as an industrial designer. I consider myself to be in the beginning of a process of practicing a new way of thinking.

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