Circularity and Chips

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A fishy story of sustainable product design

What is Circular Design? With Extinction Rebellion bringing the climate crisis to the top of news bulletins there is an increasing awareness of and move towards circularity in product design. This means leaving behind our conventional linear design philosophy where products are made, used and disposed of (to landfill). Instead, we need to apply a circular approach in which products are designed to be re-used, re-paired, re-manufactured or at the very least, re-cycled.

As experts from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have said:

“Design is key to the first principle of circular economy ‘design out waste and pollution.’”



But what does this look like in practice?

Our client, Packaging Solutions Scotland (PSS), shows exactly how the shift from linear to circular design can work in one part of the food industry. Today, we are spoilt for choice by the fresh food on our supermarket shelves. Vegetables, fruit, meat and fish are harvested all over the world and brought to our local stores. Temperature control during this global journey is critical for making sure that the food we buy is in perfect condition.

Polystyrene packaging is often used in the transport of chilled food because polystyrene is a good insulator. For example, fresh fish is packed with ice into polystyrene boxes to travel by road to filleting factories. These polystyrene boxes are only used once to avoid contamination, which could give us food poisoning.

The founders of PSS spotted an opportunity to replace these single use polystyrene boxes with reusable packaging. They solved the contamination problem by working with their customers to introduce an industrial ‘dishwasher’ which makes sure that the reusable packaging enters the factory clean, regardless of its journey to get there. The S-bin, developed by PSS, is a collapsible bin which can be used over and over again.

It replaces mountains of polystyrene which used to be stacked high in fish processing warehouses and went straight to landfill after use. Instead, after being emptied of their fish at the filleting factory, the S-bins are stacked together and loaded up into the lorry for its return journey.

The S-bin doesn’t just reduce waste. When we spoke to PSS’s customers we learnt that the S-bin is also better for the quality of their fish. This circular design solution makes sound business, as well as environmental, sense. We’re pleased to be working with PSS to develop new products which will further reduce packaging waste, as well as deliver commercial benefits for PSS and their customers.



At 4c, we are looking forward to tonight’s launch of the Circular Glasgow Network, which will bring together like-minded businesses in our local area to share experiences and support each other in the transition from a linear to a circular economy. Join us there, or get in touch to find out more about circular design at 4c.

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