Love your products as if they were a teddy bear

Product developer Taina Flink works with sustainable product design - in other words, developing products that are made to be recyclable from the very beginning. For the last five years, she's been helping companies with their product development as part of Stena Recycling's "Design for Recycling" service.

10 questions about Design for Recycling

1) How do you see your role in Design for Recycling?  

- I'm passionate about making designers and producers aware of how their solutions affect the recyclability of the products they develop. When faced with a choice of two solutions that are equal in terms of performance, I want designers to choose the one that is best for recycling. I help companies that develop products make more informed choices, keeping sustainability in mind.

2) What does your day-to-day work involve?       

- I give lectures, and carry out disassembly analyses with our customers. This kind of analysis consists of me taking products apart and then appraising the materials they are made of and the methods used to join the different materials together. Sometimes, this disassembly is done together with the companies, on site. I then write a report containing advice on how material recovery can be improved. The biggest contribution I make is explaining how product assembly affects material recycling.

3) What is sustainable design?

- Sustainable design fulfills the the needs of the user while minimizing the use of resources as much as possible. If we loved all products as much as we do a favorite teddy bear, the environmental impact of products would be reduced significantly. We take good care of a teddy bear - we love it. To successfully create products that people want to keep and care for in the same way might be the best thing you can do to increase sustainability.

However, it is also important to limit the amount of products we consume in society. It's better to buy one quality teddy bear than 30 different ones. And when you no longer love the bear, it can be given to someone else - and eventually get recycled.

4) What is the most common misconception about recycling among companies?

- Just because it says in a material data sheet that something is recyclable, it doesn't automatically mean that it can be recycled when it's used in a product with other materials. It depends on what product the material is used in, how it fits with other materials and how common the material is. We work with industrial and mechanical recycling: how products are designed can have a big impact.

5) How can you, as a specialist, help companies?

- I can explain how recycling is done in reality. This often leads to something of an awakening for product developers. I help them understand how to choose materials that can actually be recycled, so that they can improve their products and achieve higher recovery rates.

6) What kind of things be avoided?

- Avoid attaching materials in ways that mean they can´t easily be separated: for example, gluing or attaching metal screws to plastic. Today, in the western world, there are few things that get dismantled manually. This means that when certain products are crushed in mills, a little bit of plastic is always stuck around the screw - and it ends up in with the metal. As a result, recovery will not be optimized.

7) Why should gluing be avoided?

- Glue is a firm attachment - that's the point of it. But in products, when different materials are glued together, they can´t then be separated when they go through mechanical recycling. The glue seam won't be broken. It's better with a click solution.

8) Why is plastic hard to recycle?

- A lot of people think that all plastics can be recycled. Plastic in packaging is recycled to a great extent, because there are fewer types used. But it's harder to recycle plastic that's been used to make products. This is because so many different types of plastic composition are used. In order to make plastic cheaper, or to improve its properties, things like glass fibre, talc and calcium carbonite are often mixed into it. Pure, common plastics are best for recycling.

9) What value does Stena Recycling create for your customers through Design for Recycling?

- Our customers can respond to consumers’ questions about how their products are really recycled, and they can also create products with higher recovery rates right from the start.

10) How do you want to work with Design for Recycling in the future?

- It would be exciting to work in a similar way as a school nurse does - to have a day of consultation every month. Product designers could then come to me with their recycling challenges, their designs, their products: I could then evaluate them from a recycling perspective. The better understanding I have about a company's specific challenges and demands for their products, the better I can help them.

 

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