The guys at The Agency of Design were quite surprised when they visited their local electrical goods recycling plant. The shock was that the bulk of the waste doesn’t get recycled. Steel and aluminium are recycled, plastic comes out as a mixed low-grade bundle and any circuit boards are sent to the smelter. Everything else pretty much goes to waste.

The key thing, that this visit highlighted, was that there is no profit in recycling for the manufacturer. They have little interest in the end-of-life of their products. For them, it is all about the speed and the cost of manufacture. Perhaps then, with this is mind, designers should be looking at creating products that take into account how products are recycled rather than just using materials that can be recycled. After all, just because a material can be recycled doesn’t mean it is. Thinking along these lines, The Agency of Design looked at the design of the toaster. They came up with three concepts that look at different ways of addressing the lack of recycling.

The Optimist

The first solution, The Optimist, was designed to last. Using die-cast aluminium the toaster is robust and indestructible. The mechanisms have been kept simple with the aim that they will just go and go and go. When the toaster eventually gives up it has been designed so that the aluminium can be melted down and made into something else.

The Pragmatist

The second solution, The Pragmatist, has been designed so that subassemblies can be replaced to prolong the life of the toaster. The toaster comes with three toasting elements. Each element is a separate cartridge so that it can be easily disassembled if it fails. It is then returned to the supplier so that it can be broken down and parts reused. In exchange, the supplier provides a replacement cartridge. The theory behind this is that instead of having to discard and replace the whole toaster when only one element fails, The Pragmatist can continue its useful life with replacement cartridges.

The Realist

The final solution, The Realist, has been designed to be low-cost and with ease of disassembly in mind. At the end of the toaster’s working life, the vacuum fixing pellets, that have been assembled next to the snap fit clips, are released in a vacuum chamber. The fixing pellets force the snap fits apart which disassembles the product into different parts and materials for easier recycling. This addresses the interests of both the manufacturer and the recycler. It’s cheap to make so the manufacturer is happy and requires minimal labour costs during disassembly which should be attractive to the recycler.

To learn more about the project visit The Agency of Design.

Lorrin Windahl is a Senior Project Designer with CobaltNiche. This article first appeared on Less By Design and is republished with permission.

Further reading:
GreenWise Business
The Guardian

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