Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

Are you thinking of entering the SDC International Design Competition 2017? The theme for 2017 is ‘design for a circular economy’. As always, the focus is on colour and its use in the design process, and you will need to analyse and justify the resources used. This includes the dyes, chemicals, materials and processes used to commercially produce your product within a circular economy.

One of the key concepts you’ll need to consider is ‘Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.’ In this blog we take a look at what this means. 

What happens to your product at the end of its intended life?  Does it go into landfill, or have you considered more creative ways of ensuring its longevity and reducing its impact on the environment?

It is estimated that in many people’s wardrobes around 30% of the clothing has not been worn in the last year. In the UK alone we bin over 350,000 tonnes of used clothing each year. On average a consumer keeps an item of clothing for three years, but in many instances it’s only worn in the first year and then just takes up space in the wardrobe until it is eventually disposed of.

And what about products that are such poor quality they fall apart after a few washes? This limits their lifecycle and makes them difficult to reuse. The trend for fast fashion and cheap clothing means that people are buying more clothes for the same spend and some view clothes as disposable items to be thrown away after a night out or a couple of wears.

In the UK around a third of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill and up to @10% is incinerated. Fast fashion, by its very nature, implies a short product lifecycle. So there’s clearly a lot of work to be done to reduce the impact of clothing and textiles on the environment.

How is your product manufactured in the first place? There are huge challenges in terms of fibre, energy and water use, and we must look at the waste generated and come up with alternatives to reduce the environmental impact.

So what do you need to consider?


This can include reducing:

  • the resources that are used. From the energy used to manufacture the product to the packaging it is sold to the consumer in
  • the air miles used in transporting raw materials and finished goods
  • the waste products created during the process and which are discarded into the environment.


Recycling is the process of converting what could otherwise be waste materials into reusable materials and objects. This usually involves breaking down the used item to make raw materials which can then be used again.


Reuse is defined as when items are reused in their original form without reprocessing or any energy input. So it’s the action of using something again, whether for its original purpose or a different one.

Reuse has a number of advantages including:

  • energy and raw material savings
  • reduced disposal needs and cost
  • to be suitable for reuse the item is usually better quality.

However, there are also some potential disadvantages such as

  • the cleaning or transport which may be required, which have environmental costs
  • reusable products need to be more durable than single-use products
  • sorting and preparing items for reuse takes time and can be a costly manual operation
  • knowing the standards that products conform to is required to ensure products are compatible with latest legislation and best practice.

Other concepts include upcycling and repurposing. Upcycling is the process of converting old or discarded materials into something useful, often creating a product of higher quality than the original. Very fashionable at the moment are ‘shabby chic’ projects, using objects which would otherwise be thrown away.

Re-purposing is taking a product which was designed for one purpose and adapting it so it can be used for a different purpose.

We hope this has given you an insight into some of the issues you need to consider. There is lots of information available online about the concepts touched on in this article, so why not do your own research? There’s information on the website about the SDC International Design Competition.





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Comments (1)

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    Ali Raza


    I am designing a more sustainable process for dyeing 100% polyster sewing thread. I would also like to receive suggestions in this regard. My e-mail ID is “”.


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