Did you know that metal straws are actually environmentally not better than plastic ones?

As a design research lab, we are interested in supporting the transition of the plastics industry towards a circular economy from a human-centred perspective. Meaning, that it does not help to forbid the usage of straws if they are simply replaced by other materials without influence on motivation of behaviour change. We have to design new ways of experiencing the same drinking consumption and so change people’s motivation towards reuse. Research is needed to investigate the opportunities to redesign the usage of these valuable unique materials.

Being in a transition towards a circular economy, it is critical to infinitely reuse materials and no longer create waste while maintaining wealth. Designers are considered as enablers for correct circular design as they are skilled in managing interdisciplinary projects, co-creating with end users, and the process of change. Consequently, their responsibility increases in a circular economy as they influence the whole product lifecycle and have the ability to collaborate with and take into account all stakeholders in the chain in order to allow circularity. 

The ecoteam of the Product development research group is mainly investigating how alternatives for current ubiquitous single use products, which often exists of plastics, can be successfully designed. The impact of our single use plastics consumption cannot longer be ignored and plastics are perceived by some societal groups as practically reprehensible and some (e.g. plastic bags, straws) are/ get banned accordingly. In order to re-appreciate these valuable unique materials, research urgently needs to support the purposeful use of plastics design for long-lived solutions, in contrast to the multitude of current single-use products. Our main research question is: “How to design for optimal plastics usage in a circular economy?”. The research is focussing on understanding how to increase the value retention of products through optimal product usage. The ambition is to understand how all single use products can be replaced by qualitative and convenient reusable alternatives.

In order to be able to structure the research, three areas were identified that have an important influence on plastics usage.

  • Sustainable experience: understanding end-users motivation and behaviour influencing variables related to product usage; investigation of sustainable experience as a strategy to support longer product lifecycles, reuse and sustainable lifestyles.
  • Material identity: defining material identity from a human-centred perspective to optimize resource efficiency, applicability of materials, and product attachment.
  • Closing the loop: Identification of ideal cycles with specific attention on channelling the end of life and optimize sorting and collection of redundant resources by end-users.



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