Selecting Safe Materials for a Circular Economy Is Critical – and Possible

Stacy Glass | December 11, 2018

Circular design encourages us to rethink business models and how we make products, and to consider the systems surrounding them. But we also need to think about the materials we use – and the chemistry behind them. To create a truly sustainable circular economy, we must know what’s in the materials and products we choose, and those choices should focus on optimized chemistry for human and environmental health. Only then will we have the building blocks for a circular economy.

Chemistry is an important part of the value stream.

A circular economy is fueled by the creation and retention of value. By keeping material streams as pure as possible from the beginning and through the entire use cycle, the full value of a material is retained. Value retention is key to activating the systems that make the circular economy function, including the incentive for manufacturers to take back products because they have value and the motivation for entrepreneurs to create robust secondary markets.

Not all materials are fit for a circular economy, however. When they contain chemicals that are hazardous for humans or the environment, they provide little to no value in supporting  circularity. Fortunately there are ways to choose materials that are safe AND circular so you can build a better offering for your users and introduce valuable inputs for a sustainable economy.

New Safe and Circular learning modules provide an excellent place to start.

To help designers, entrepreneurs, and innovators make positive materials choices and integrate better chemistry into the design process from the very start, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2C PII) have released a new series of advanced learning modules as part of the foundation’s Circular Design Guide, which was co-created with IDEO.

You’ll find them in the Methods section of the guide (scroll to the “Advanced” section), which aims to fuel design thinking for the circular economy by challenging traditional design methods, delivering new approaches, and introducing users to circular economy concepts as well as techniques updated for this new economic framework.

The new modules include:

  1. Materials Journey Mapping: Explore how materials choices can influence a design to fit a circular economy.
  2. Product Redesign Workshop: Explore the implications of safe and circular material strategies on the design process through a redesign workshop.
  3. Material Selection: Choose the right materials for your new circular design.
  4. Moving Forward with Materials: Explore the next steps for making safe and circular material choices a driver for innovation in your design process.

MaterialWise and Pharos provide the data for safer material selection.

The MaterialWise screening tool, powered by HBN’s Pharos database, is featured in the new modules, offering free screening of known hazards to a broader global audience. Via an API, MaterialWise offers users full access to the 100,000 (and growing) known chemicals of concern included in Pharos, as well as insight and education into common uses, exposures, and why certain hazards matter. Whether through MaterialWise, Pharos, or another of our API partners, screening against this comprehensive database helps to eliminate the use of known hazards to help you design better inputs for a circular economy.

Learn more about Safe and Circular.

Check out Safe & Circular by Design: Making Positive Material Choices, a podcast hosted by Emma Fromberg from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and featuring Stacy Glass, director of MaterialWise, alongside other leaders in the safe and circular movement.