Resource efficient products in a circular economy – The case of consumables. From environmental and resource assessment to design guidelines

Abstract: The circular economy (CE) is a concept to challenge the unsustainable production, consumption, and waste management of products, through the recirculation of resources and products through various means while reducing environmental impact. Within this concept, many measures are recommended for reducing environmental impact and resource use. However, to ensure and verify whether a measure is leading to its intended outcome, environmental and resource assessment is necessary.   This thesis aims to investigate which measures are resource efficient and identify for which products different measures are suitable and under what circumstances they lead to their intended outcomes. Based on this, design methods are developed to enable the design of more resource-efficient products. Finally, this thesis aims to investigate more specifically the measures that are suitable for consumable products, as these products have not been examined thoroughly in the circular economy literature as durable products.  The aims of this research were met by investigating which resource-efficiency measures exist and are applicable to products with different characteristics. This was done through life cycle assessment studies of specific consumable products. Further, a synthesis study was carried out in which lifecycle-based assessment studies of different products and measures were analysed. This research concludes that depending on a product’s characteristics, some measures are more relevant than others. In addition, the analysis shows that many measures lead to trade-offs between different types of environmental impacts and resources uses, as well as between different life cycle phases. For these findings to be practically useful, they were subsequently translated into design guidelines expressed as a design tool.   Finally, a literature review was conducted of general product design guidelines in the CE and ecodesign literature to compile and analyse to what extent the design guidelines are applicable to different types of consumables. Among other factors, this review shows that, on average, less than half of the recommendations found in the general product design guidelines are possible to apply to consumables. Further, the CE literature was found to provide fewer relevant design considerations than the ecodesign literature. This work also identifies what aspects make product-types specific design guidelines transferable to other consumables.