Circular Design Strategy 4 - Design for Recyclability

Design for Recyclability

Recyclability is a critical aspect of creating a product for a circular system. This strategy challenges designers to look at what recycling solutions are available and consider how they will influence and impact certain product features.

Designing for recyclability is a strategy that ensures products never become “waste”, but instead allows for closed-loop material recovery.

When designers create with recyclability in mind, garments can be prepared for the eventual day when they no longer serve their initial purpose. Allowing materials to reincarnate in new forms diverts them away from the landfill.

Repairing, redistributing, redesigning and remanufacturing can minimise resource consumption by keeping garments in a smaller loop within the circular model. Only as a last resort at the end of a garment’s life should it rejoin the bigger loop via recycling, which uses more resources. Designing for recyclability from the beginning ensures this final step can be taken with minimal hassle.

Things for you to consider when designing your garment:

  • What recycling options are available in your town, region, country?
  • What features does your product need to have, or not have, to enter these recycling streams?
  • How will you communicate to the user of your garment the recycling pathways that you have designed your garment for?
  • What decisions can you make now that will enable the wearer to be part of the recycling solution?

The ultimate goal is a closed loop system that infinitely maintains the value and quality of all materials. It is all the better if garment fibres can be reused as yarn for garments, as opposed to recovering the material for lesser value products such as wipes or insulation, a process known as downcycling. To achieve a closed-loop system, creators need to be intentional in their design choices, from fibre selection, to material processing, garment construction, and labelling.

The recycling process is not as straightforward as it might sound. Collecting and sorting textiles is a major issue in the process, as waste textiles need to meet the quantitative and qualitative requirements of raw materials for industrial recycling.

Recycling holds great potential in environmental benefits, but only if high recovery rates and quality products are achieved. It can be laborious and complicated, but with the right design decisions, clothing recyclability can be achieved. To understand this, we need to look into the different recycling methods.