Last weekend I took part in the London Circular Jam, an event put on by teams of mentors and organisers working on sustainability and the circular economy.
Over the weekend people from a diverse range of backgrounds came together to think about how new products, systems and services can tackle sustainability problems. We had a multitude of conversations about sustainable materials and products, a product teardown session, masses of ideas, sketching and prototyping. The mentors gave great insights into their work – too much to write here so I’ll pick out a few details about product design which struck a chord with me.
Sven Segal showed us a shoe which is stitched together, rather than glued as most shoes are. It’s constructed with chain stitching which can be removed all in one go, rather than having to pick out individual stitches. This highlights one of the key challenges around closed loop design – most products aren’t designed to be taken apart so when they come to the end of their useful lifetime, it’s difficult to recycle any part of them. Instead, the whole thing gets thrown away in one piece.
Miquel Ballester Salvà brought in another angle around supply chain ethics. Smartphones contain materials such as tin, cobalt and and coltan. There is often a lack of transparency about prices at different stages of the supply chain and miners are often not paid fair wages for their work. A more circular system would in theory reduce the need for mining raw materials due to increased reuse and recycling, but another question then emerges – what happens to the miners’ livelihoods?
All the mentors touched on what is probably the most important and challenging aspect of making the circular economy work in our society – the business models. Useful Simple Projects Director Judith Sykes has blogged about this before so I’ll leave you to read more about that in her post. Useful Simple Projects has been doing lots of work around the circular economy such as The Great Recovery and closed loop design projects.
I’m looking forward to going along again next year – it’s a great way to connect with others working in this area.