Good products are designed with the end in mind. The DFL design process purposefully makes plans for all components to be recycled, repurposed, or even peer-to-peer traded. When it comes time to finally say goodbye, components should be biodegradable, however the landfill is the last place it should end up – because the product was designed with an end-of-life plan in mind.

Good products are designed with the end in mind. The DFL design process purposefully makes plans for all components to be recycled, repurposed, or even peer-to-peer traded. When it comes time to finally say goodbye, components should be biodegradable, however the landfill is the last place it should end up – because the product was designed with an end-of-life plan in mind.

Up to this point in the discussion of the DFL tenets we have talked about prolonging the life of a product, or at least the core product, but as they say ‘all good things must come to an end.’ And while we as designers can do our best to build product of high quality and sustain-able value, eventually their usefulness will come to an end for one reason or another—even if only by the decisions or whims of the owner-user. It is the purpose of the last DFL tenet to make sure designers are considering that day even when designing the product, so that the outcomes can be as efficient as possible.

When thinking of the end of a product’s life it is useful to look at the order of the commonly used phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Hopefully the first 5 DFL tenets have reduced needless waist, but the second word re-use is the first best outcome for a product’s end-of-life. For DFL we have thought about re-use in a few ways. The most advantageous is peer-to-peer trading—with or without the involvement of the brand. If a product is still in good working order but the consumer has outgrown its needs, for instance moving in with someone who already has one, or a drastic lifestyle change, the ideal would be to be able to sell the item to someone else who could get the full value from that product. Websites like Craig’s list, Letgo or neighborhood Facebook groups are great examples of grassroots effort to keep products out of landfills by allowing other users to experience their value. Another way products can be reused is through the re-use of its components. This kind of re-use is seen in the electronics and appliance industries with refurbishment. A product stops working because one piece is broken, it can be stripped and remanufactured, the working parts re-assembled into a useful item. In this way at least a portion of the product is saved from the landfill and the materials the product is composed of are still able to be useful. Ideally, the obsolete components can be recycled or discarded in the most sustainable way.

If the re-use in full or in part is not possible designers should consider how materials may be disposed of, to us this means traditional recycling, but also recycling the minerals through composting or decomposing. Best of all would be upcycling. Upcycling is a concept where a waste product is used to create something better like potentially converting a Sactionals seat frame into a garden planter box, or something. Finally, there is sustainable decomposition. There are chemical additive that designers can add to plastic or metal products to make them biodegradable. In addition to the traditional paper, plastic and metal other things can be recycled as well.

Unfortunately, today there are products that simply can’t be recycled and must end up in landfills. A lot of that waste comes from design practices like using chemical adhesives to bond two or more materials together so they cannot be separated and recycled on their own. This is why it is important for designers to think of the end of life at the beginning of the design process. If Designers use fasteners instead of adhesives, it might cost an extra few cents per unit, but being able to take the product apart to recycle its components literally save tons of waste. Designers will need to make sure that breaking down a product into its component parts is either easy and intuitive for the consumer, provide instructions, or brands may need step in to facilitate the recycling process.

As discussed above it is the brands’ and the designers’ responsibility to create products in such a way that the materials can use re-used or recycled. It is primarily the brand’s responsibility to decide support this approach and to go to lengths to facilitate the logistics related to this end-of-life process, where societal programs do not already exist. Brands like H&M accept their products back in stores and claim to recycle it. Often, apparel, for instance gets shipped overseas where it is shredded and turned into things like home insulation. While this system overall does not have a good carbon footprint, it does keep some fast fashion out of landfills and the program itself helps establish good consumer habits and awareness. Its inefficiencies aside, it is a step in the right direction. Brands can only do so much—working in lock-step with government on policy to create the necessary infrastructure and societal programs is necessary to achieve truly sustainable outcomes.

Photo by Ravin Rau on Unsplash

The 6 tenets of DFL mirror the product development cycle. From a product’s birth, we focus on putting things out into the world that we love and can be loved by customers. We close out this cycle by planning in advance every likely scenario for the end of the product’s useful life. End-of-life-able represents the commitment of a brand or a designer to fully adopt the holistic approach of DFL and think through every step of the process for the development, creation, use and the ultimate end-of-life stage of a product’s existence. This last tenet is a key indicator of the validity, completeness, and forward thinking nature of the DFL approach. Onc can easily imagine changes, upgrades, and new functionalities over a product’s life, but we must not ignore the final outcome of anything we choose to put out into this world. Only in this way can we achieve a holistic and sustainable design framework that can actually make a difference for the world.

Shawn

About Shawn

Founder & CEO of Lovesac, a Designed for Life furniture company. I have a goal of building products that are truly sustainable. Would you believe, I won a $1 million investment on Fox’s “Rebel Billionaire” show in 2005 and became President of Virgin Worldwide with Richard Branson’s companies for a time. Since then, I'm growing Lovesac to a 65+ store chain, recognized in Furniture Today as America’s fastest growing furniture retailer. I'm becoming known for my invention of Sactionals® Lovesac’s industry-disruptive sofa invention. Check out my vlog on YouTube! Get Off The Couch, with Shawn Nelson of Lovesac

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