Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Get rid of the throwaway mentality

What is needed to accelerate the circular transition? A different take on production and consumption is crucial, says Inge Oskam, AUAS professor of Circular Design & Business.

1 Feb 2021 00:00 | Centre for Applied Research Technology

The ambition is for the Dutch economy to run entirely on reusable raw materials by 2050. This requires consumers to shift from ‘ownership to use’. It also requires manufacturers to change their views on waste. Because these residual materials can be used to make new, valuable products, especially if companies work together more often, with one company’s waste forming the raw material in another company’s production process. “Creating a new business model together is the path to system change and a circular world.”

“At home, I work at an Ahrend desk, which has been refurbished; made from reusable parts of old desks,” explains Inge Oskam, professor of Circular Design & Business at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). Ahrend develops sustainable products for the work environment and is one of the partners with which the AUAS is researching the value of old materials and raw materials and applying them in new products. “They do this successfully because they have a circular business model, with a clear value proposition: the connection between ecological, economic and social value. And the connection between manufacturer and consumer. Of course, the user also has to want circular.”

Oskam therefore advocates a reassessment of our economic system and new business models that focus not only on sustainability and circularity but also on social value. “This requires more cooperation, from business owners to society as a whole,” Oskam explains. “A complete system change.”

Ecological, economic and social value

“In researching the circular transition at the AUAS, we proceed from the value of a residual material; how we can reuse it for other products and purposes. For example, we make designer chairs from old plastic stadium seats from the Amsterdam ArenA and new interior products from scrap wood. This clearly provides ecological value. You don’t need new raw materials. You also create economic value by bringing a new, attractive product to the market, which might appeal to a new target group. Finally, you develop social value, by creating awareness among users concerning circularity and sustainability. Tell them something about the origin of the product. In the case of the new designer chairs, made from old ArenA stadium seats, there was great sentimental value for the new owners.”

Students experiment with partners

“AUAS students in Engineering, Industrial Engineering & Management, and Product Design carried out case studies with partners such as Ahrend and Bugaboo (pram manufacturer). Together with our researchers, they help companies to think on the basis of a residual material and come up with a new value proposition: what value is there in the material, what applications can we achieve with it, how do you design with it and how do you bring it to the market? Together we research the design process and create new products from the residual materials to make the possibilities tangible. We also develop new, circular business models.”

Working together for system change

Logically, you want to give residual streams of products and materials new value within your own sector. For example, our partner Bugaboo wants to use old pushchair parts or materials to create new products for parents and children. And our partner Ahrend reuses residual streams from office products for the work environment. But that is not always possible. What if you have residual streams that local makers and designers are eager to work with? Oskam: “Bringing together stakeholders presents a huge opportunity with which system change can be achieved; a joint business model between and for multiple companies.”

“A network could consist of: waste companies, municipal authorities, local makers, designers, manufacturers and vendors as well as consumers and residents. Suppose the consumer brings residual streams to the municipal authority or another central point, which can then work with local designers and makers to breathe new life into it. It may then be possible to sell it through different channels than usual, because it needs to appeal to a new target group.”

From ownership to use

From the consumers’ point of view, the transition requires a different perspective on ownership; a shift from ‘ownership to use’, such as subscriptions or Product-as-a-Service (PaaS). “We will see a lot more car sharing and we will rent electronic products,” Oskam explains. “If there's something wrong with your ‘rented’ speaker and you can’t fix it, it will no longer end up in the rubbish bin, but you’ll send it back to the manufacturer for repair or a necessary software update. Or products can be recycled or refurbished by the manufacturer (and thus the owner) after a rental period and put back into the market. We need to get rid of the throwaway mentality.”

“We still have to connect a lot of dots in order to support these types of new services and collaborations. It’s not easy, but it’s essential. Creating a new business model together, from businesses to users, is the path to system change and a circular world.”