MENTOR SESSION – Product Design for Circular Economy - Tox (Marten Toxopeus)

Hello. I am Marten Toxopeus from the University of Twente (Enschede, The Netherlands)

#Ask Me About
Product Design for the Circular Economy, considering End of life (of products) in Circular Economy, and product lifecycle assessments in general.

#When & How Will I Answer Questions
I will try to take a look at the questions on Friday 10th of June. and I’ll log in on Sunday afternoon the 12th of June
(and I’ll try to joing the OSCE day in Nijmegen, on the morning of saturday 11th of June)

#About Me
I’ve been working on Sustainability since the late 90’s. I started with Exergy Assessment, and slowly moved over towards LCA’s. I teach LCA’s to Mechanical Engineering students and to Industrial Design Engineering students at the Univeristy of Twente. I’m not only applying LCA’s for Environmental impacts but more for a general application. You can use LCA’s also to determine the impact of a products lifecycle on Safety or Employment, etc. And currently I’m collaborating more on the social aspects of Sustainability and LCA’s


Hi @Tox

Thank you for you mentorship! I have questions regarding:

I recently started to develop open source products that are supposed to be circular (Mifactori). My starting point is “modularity”. So modularity first.

For someone with less experience it is pretty obvious that modularity is probably a key road towards circular design.

But the more I talk to engineers and collect data the more doubts I have about this. Or at least, I see more and more difficulties. What do you know/learned about modularity? Is this something that we need to explore more? Are their cases/areas where it works well and others where we know it does not work?

Any general recommendations?

(I work with a standardized 3x3cm grid in all the designs I do - for example for our OSCEdays Berlin furniture – which is inspired by the Open Structures project - (what do you think about this approach))

Hey Lars,
What difficulties do you see with modularity? Maybe it doesn’t apply generally but do you think it applies sometimes? For instance, if you have a motor that is modular and can be used in many circumstances, would that not be better than having exactly the same motor replicated 2 or 3 times in different pieces of equipment and having no interchangability?

@Gien jepp, that is what I also thought (and still think to some extend) till I learned about the “Spreading Error Effect”.

HI @Tox - great to meet you online here again :slight_smile: I think your expertise will be great to connect with on one of the challenge we are taking forward here from last year - Open Energy Life Cycles - We’ll be working on it on the Friday during our wider Challenge - Making Open Guidance and Resource for Circular Community Spaces. Hope to connect more! We were also looking at Open LCA guidance and use.

Hi @Tox,
I imagine that (at least for now) there are not so many people who are actively on the lookout for more circular products, so I imagine the product or the producer has a lot of work to do in order to convince people to seek out and value the circular economy approach.

What are some ways in which a circular product can ‘communicate’ its circularity to a (potential) user? Are there any good examples you can think of?

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Hello Lars, Thank you for you question on modularity. Indeed you have to be careful that this is just one of the possible solutions and not as such a goal on itself. Despite the benefits there are often some real drawbacks. It does have to do with the goal you have of the modular product. What is the intended benefit of modularity?
When considering furniture there a couple of directions. The first point is the ‘use’ interaction. There is a huge difference between seats, tables and those type of products and storage products. In case of seatings modularity could be achieved in modular / identical interchangable connecting parts and function specific (non-interchanceable) parts, like the seat, back and arm rests?

A general drawback of modularity (in furniture) is that you’ll (often) need more material. so your material use increases. That requires a smart solution to be able to seperate the different materials (if present) at the end of the lifespan.

Does this help?

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Hi Erica, is that this friday (10th of June)?
I’ll be interested in what is happening on the open energy life cycles.

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Hi Cameralibre,
THAT is an interesting topic. One of the problems I assume is the lack a clear ‘scale’ measuring tool to determine circularity. I know of a few initiatives and it is an interesting research area.
On the otherhand, Why use circularity as a marketing tool? Why not just develop good and interesting circular products. Most users probably don’t want to decrease comfort and functionality just for the sake of circularity. So (circular) products should be able to compete with other products, on functionality, comfort and even price. Higer initial prices (investments) should be compensated by the benefits of circularity (closed material loop, no waste, product service systems, etc.).
We all know the dangers and disappointments of greenwashing, let us try to avoid ‘circular bending’ :slight_smile:

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Hello Community. Today, or more specific at the moment I’m online for your questions. Although I do have to leave at 14:30 CEST. But feel free to send in your replies, remarks or questions anyway. I might be able to repsond later tonicht (Sunday 12th of June).