PolyCE’s workshop: How to get started with circular design of electronics

During the workshop, PolyCE launched their “Design for and Design from Recycling Guidelines”, which offer a practical approach to designing electronics using recycled materials.

The Guidelines show how to move towards the reuse of recycled plastics, how they can be implemented step by step and what design recommendations need to be taken into account.

The “design for recycling” strategy showed best practices during the product development process, following the sequential design phases of material selection, part and product design; the “design from recycling” strategy looked at how new and existing products can be manufactured using recycled plastics.

In order to reach real circularity, both strategies need to be implemented, explained the experts.

Many guidelines have been developed in the recent years to support companies to enable Design for Recycling.

Different sectors have even developed specific guidelines, mostly for the packaging sector, as this sector has the highest demand for plastics and generates most of our plastic waste today.

The PolyCE guidelines were developed on a product level and a part level. They are divided into 5 main categories, namely: avoidance of hazardous substances, enabling easy access and removal of hazardous or polluting parts, use of recyclable materials, use of material combinations and connections allowing easy liberation and use of recycled materials.

These guidelines are the first harmonised set to be released for the electronics industry. The technical feasibility of the Guidelines, which can serve decision-makers on different levels, were validated in several product demonstrators in PolyCE, among others by the multinational OEMs Philips and Whirlpool.

In his speech, Eelco Smit, senior manager of sustainability at Philips, explained the company’s journey in applying design methods for and from recycling, to create products like the award-winning SENSEO coffee machine.

During the virtual event, Roberta Bernasconi, senior manager for sustainability at Whirlpool, focused on the main challenges Whirlpool faced using post-consumer recycled content in large household appliances and the next steps required for circular design.

In line with the European Commission’s Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy, PolyCE is set to enable inclusion of post-consumer recycled plastics into new electronic products and in doing so lead the way towards adoption of circular plastics on the mass consumer market.

It was a special honour that Frans Timmermans, one of the three Executive Vice Presidents of the EU Commission in charge of the Green Deal, participated in the interactive workshop.

The project coordinator and environmental expert at Fraunhofer IZM, Gergana Dimitrova, presented him with the guidelines “Design for and Design from Recycling”, which were produced during the project and contain, among other things, practical guidelines for designers.

Mr Timmermans pointed out the need for a circular economy. “We need to move towards a circular economy,” he said, “wanting to be the first climate-neutral continent as Europe is not a goal in itself.

“It is part of helping humanity understand that we need to live within planetary boundaries.

“We also need to ensure that our products respect the highest sustainability standards.

“We need durable, re-usable, repairable products, products made of recycled materials and designed for high-quality recycling in turn.

“This is an essential discussion where your project makes such a timely contribution. The book you are launching today is crystal clear about what needs to be done.

“It is clear: only with a circular economy we can reach climate neutrality.”

At the end of the event, participants were given the opportunity to ask questions on recycled plastics and about the process of implementing new products onto the market. A world without plastics is unthinkable: they have become a fundamental part of our everyday lives, occupying a huge place in most sectors.

As a result, the waste generated has become a big concern, with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) considered one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the EU27 and globally.

More than 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage, so how can designers reduce this impact by making products from recycled plastics and for recycling?

A technical workshop called How to get started with circular electronic product development — the secrets to design for and from recycling took place in PolyCE’s virtual laboratory on April 15.

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