The circular economy: from lifecycle to ‘life circle’…
01 September 2020
With the current worldwide focus on the coronavirus pandemic, other issues have rightly taken a back seat. Topics that just a few months ago seemed so important are now discarded.
This case study was originally featured in the September 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.
Interestingly enough, the pandemic and its repercussions have also generated some surprising positive impacts on our world. In some areas, skies are bluer, the water is cleaner and wildlife is returning. This provides some hope that we, as humans, can help heal our earth. John Watt, Financial Director at UK-based EMS provider, Dynamic EMS considers what role electronics manufacturers can play…
One area that offers hope is improving product lifecycles: designing for repurpose or reuse. You may consider the circular economy simply as ‘reduce > reuse > recycle’, but it is – or can be – so much more. The concept aims to close cycles, utilising products and resources in the best possible way across the entire value chain. This is a dramatic shift away from the linear model of ‘take > make > dispose’, toward a system of closed loops, powered by renewable energy.
Innovation is notorious for being disruptive, upending our day-to-day habits and frustrating designers as it dares to find a better way. It can also be said that the ‘normal’ or standard, everyday process is the enemy of innovation. This is certainly true when it comes to manufacturing. We can get used to doing things the same way, dulled by repetition, and lulled into repeating yesterday’s modest successes. So, how do we change our ways? The answer can be found in a form of lifelong learning.
The Dynamic EMS service model extends beyond our capability to manufacture quality products, to the way we design for the circular economy, keeping in mind both our end customer and the environment. Dynamic has been working with WasteSwitch, who specialise in environmental procedures, corporate responsibility and related compliance. WasteSwitch explain how the circular economy requires everyone to understand the targets and processes for getting there. Employees need to embrace, understand and respect the need for environmental action, then work toward those goals, which include CO2 reduction, environmental impact, and sustainability reuse/recycle initiatives. Companies need to adhere to regulatory requirements and local legislation, so building those needs into product lifecycles is a design must.
Its work with Dynamic is just part of the picture: WasteSwitch takes a comprehensive approach to lifelong learning, to reach everyone at different ages, stages and lifecycles, reinforcing the message across multiple platforms and perspectives. To achieve this, it works with educational establishments to talk about the importance of the circular economy within schools and colleges. This can be simple steps, such as recycling, sorting by the colour of the bins, what goes where and why. The kids take this message home to their parents, who start to put these steps in place for the happiness of the child, a form of recycling gamification.
WasteSwitch also goes into workplaces, helping reinforce the message for employees with children. And if there are no children at home, the message gets home anyway, so employees now understand how to recycle at both home and work, often sharing with customers how to help our ecosystem, ever aware that old methods can often be improved upon.
When Dynamic designs a product, it’s now done with consideration of the circular economy, with the knowledge that when this product’s usefulness is over, it will be able to be repurposed into something else that doesn’t negatively impact our Earth, completing the product ‘life circle’.
The COVID-19 disruption offers a unique opportunity to rethink how we create, build and use. If anything, the pandemic has shown us the importance of human wellness and its connection to our environment, highlighting the fragility of our current system, and instilling a compelling drive to do better. As the months slide by, we may wish for a return to what we used to know. But maybe we’ve also learned something, and the old ‘normal’ may not fully come back – and in some ways, that’s a good thing.
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