Should product design consider the environment?

Scientists have found a way to turn plastic bottles into useful materials. We ask how closely future products will have to consider the environment in their design.

The environmental implications of plastic are chilling – because plastic waste is toxic and non-biodegradable it often ends up in oceans or in landfill. Globally the use of plastic bottles is expected to exceed half a trillion tons per year by 2021.

It’s good news to hear that a group of scientists have found a way to turn plastic bottle waste into an ultra-light material with a variety of uses. It absorbs carbon dioxide as well as the much bulkier material used in gasmasks and has superior thermal resistance and stability than existing firefighter coats.

It’s fantastic that we’re finding ways to alleviate the plastics problem – but what if products were designed with these issues in mind?

We recently worked with a client called Janger, that makes a brilliant alternative to the standard hanger. It’s smaller and is made from a single part. One of the upshots of this is that it uses up to three times less plastic than a standard hanger, it takes up less space which reduces transport costs and it’s 100% recyclable. What’s more, all this was shown by an independent study.

It’s a part of Janger’s brand that’s really important to for consumers. Companies like Innocent Smoothies have entire sections of their website dedicated to what the company does for the environment (and other social issues). And if this all sounds like something people obviously want, as recently as 2010 it really wasn’t the case.

A report in AdWeek from that year detailed how consumers were actually turned off by brands with eco-products, with many people exaggerating in their minds how expensive buying green is.

It seems that there’s been a shift then. Perhaps brands aren’t building entire product identities around being green, but they’re increasingly making it a part of who they are and building into how they create products.

So, here’s to product design thinking about the world. And to the scientists working to save us from toxic plastic waste, thank you. But we hope you’re out of a job some day…!