Sustainability Should Mean Rebuild-ability
I recently had a travel mug top break. Not a disaster in the grand scheme of things, but it was a bummer. As you see here, it ended up in two pieces:
this shouldn’t look like this.
The bottom part fits into the top part, and a little spring-activated valve opens the passage between your mocha and your mouth. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Obviously, it’s not going to do that anymore. The food-grade glue or seal or something that held these two parts together (and resisted the opposing force of the spring) gave out, and only some sort of industrial (and food safe!) glue application would return it to operational condition.
Not having any of that around, I am tempted to toss it into the trash. Which brings me to the larger point of this post: sustainable design.
First, what could have made this product more sustainable? Making it re-buildable by the average consumer. If the two parts shown above had been screwed into place, for example, you could have screwed or unscrewed it at will to maintain the pieces and parts located inside (or just to make it work again. I’m sure there’s an even smarter way to make this rebuildable (mention it in the comments!).
Secondly, any product that you buy should come not only with a warranty, but a sustainability guide for when the warranty expires. Tell the consumer how to re-purpose (if not rebuild) the product. Something as basic and banal as a travel mug doesn’t come with an assembly manual, but providing (very) basic tips on how to keep even simple things operational and working well past the warrantied lifespan would be helpful. And, as a last resort, make the item easy to break down into recyclable (or reusable) components. This travel mug is a combo of fused plastic and metal, and my recycler would toss the whole thing in the trash if I set it out for pickup. If I could even take the plastic bits off the large metal base that would be a step in the right direction.
Last, consider designing products that are so simple to assemble, with the fewest amounts of parts, that they have less likelihood of failure. I recently bought this insulated travel mug. It has exactly two pieces: a top and a bottom.
Pretty simple to assemble, and it keeps the coffee warm, and inside the mug. And it has the added design value of being a commentary on another product (in this case, a paper coffee cup).
What are other barriers to sustainable design? And how can we make rebuildability an easier attribute to build into a product?