Impact of circular economy in plywood furniture design

Plywood Furniture in a circular economy

The European Parliament’s definition of a circular economy (also referred to as circularity and CE) is “a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.” Essentially, taking the parts back to the start and using them again.

In a linear model, resources are turned into products that have a short life cycle and are ultimately destined to end up as waste because of the way they have been designed and manufactured. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this process is summarized as “take, make, waste”. On the other hand, a circular economy employs reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recycling to create a closed-loop system, reducing the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution, and carbon emissions.

The Circular Economy concept.png
By Geissdoerfer, M., Pieroni, M.P., Pigosso, D.C. and Soufani, K. – Geissdoerfer, M., Pieroni, M.P., Pigosso, D.C. and Soufani, K., 2020. Circular business models: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, p.123741.
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Wood is a rockstar in a circular economy. It is the most abundant biodegradable and renewable material available, however, some factors need to be taken into consideration when designing furniture and its utilization. Attention must be paid to economic, social, and mainly environmental issues, such as emissions, gasses, and threats to forests, which have been fought by the increase in the use of wood waste.

Plywood panels are structures made out of wood with several processing stages, compacted by pressure, temperature, and the use of bonding material.

These products many times have become substitutes for solid wood in the furniture manufacturing and construction industries and this is greatly motivated by the scarcity of virgin raw materials. Because wood is a renewable material and when transformed into plywood has added qualities like dimensional stability, has made it the material of choice for many furniture designers.

Four principles to unlock “circular Economy” innovation in your plywood furniture designs

Product innovation is increasingly dominated by adding extra ingredients, to the point where nobody understands exactly what is in the products, oftentimes, this is done under pressure to differentiate. This initial insight about the need to de-complexify is inspiring a new generation of designers who mainly do furniture design around a set of principles that would underpin all future products:

Keep it simple – use the lowest possible diversity of ingredients while designing a piece of furniture, to an extent minimalism embodies most of this principle.

Clean materialUse materials that have a positive impact on human health and the environment, avoid materials that are hard to recycle or upcycle. Luckily plywood is easy to recycle at the end-of-life stage for plywood furniture and household objects.

Use reversible connections – Connect materials in a way that allows for easy disassembly at the end of each use or product life phase.

modular design – Design that enables reconfiguration of interchangeable components that can be reused and leftover materials that can be recovered to extend their life cycle or reduce waste.

Feature Image Credits: Dale Simonson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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