Make It Better

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Make It Better: designing products that don’t cost the Earth took place at the V&A earlier this week with contributions from Sophie Thomas, co-director of design at the RSA,Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth UK, and Ugo Vallauri from the Restart Project.

Sophie Thomas kicked off with some eye-watering statistics for the amount of waste created in current manufacturing and consumption pattens.  “Currently for every tonne of household rubbish, a further 5 tonnes of materials were used in the manufacture of that product”, and 90% of all products are waste within 6 months of purchase, and as much as 80% of products are discarded after a single use.  Just hold that thought for a moment.

So the Great Recovery is about doing, and designing things better to recapture the materials, and their value in the process.  Currently, only a fifth of the resource flows in the UK are fed back into the economic cycle, the rest is waste, and waste is a design flaw.  The Design Council estimates that 80% of environmental costs are pre-determined during the product conception and design stage.   The Great Recovery Report, argues end of life needs to be in the design brief, to design for longevity, design for service, design for re-use in manufacturing and design for material recovery.  Recycling is a low value option of last resort, when there are other more valuable circles in the system.
For business, the incentive is to mitigate the supply risk of volatile resource costs due to increasing scarcity.  Many of the electronic goods we depend on, smartphones, tablets and personal computers, require elements that are increasingly scarce, and we are just not recovering them.  There are 40 elements in your mobile phone, and current best practice can recycle 15 of them.  Julian Kirby gave an eloquent illustration of the real costs of resource extraction (mining), and Friends of the Earths, Make it Better campaign.  As the pressure on resources is increasing so other costs, environmental damage, and social issues, such as land grab, are also flaring up.
All of the speakers addressed not only rapid product obsolescence, but psychological obsolescence, that is the desire for the newest, latest gadget or product release.  Many products are tossed aside far before they ultimately fail in the rush to upgrade.  With the thought that the greenest phone is probably the one you have in your hand, check out the Restart Project, which runs free community events, Restart Parties, where volunteers experienced with electronics help others learn to repair and perform maintenance to their broken or slow devices.
The next Restart Party @ Heath Street Baptist Church (Hampstead)September 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm84 Heath Street, Hampstead, London NW3 1DN, and there will be another event at  @ Centre for Alternative Tech, WalesSeptember 28, 2013.
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