In the circular economy, safety and sustainability are important, supplementing efficient use of resources. Health risks should be avoided. Recycling is not sustainable if it takes a lot of energy and involves massive chemical emissions. That is why safety and sustainability should be the primary focus in product design. Project DIRECT is committed to that goal. 

DIRECT stands for designing inclusively for a safe and sustainable circular economy transition. Within project DIRECT, RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment is developing a method for estimating the safety and sustainability of a product right at the beginning of a design process. We are also implementing this method in practice. 

Designers and other stakeholders have an important role to play in DIRECT. Project DIRECT consists of three different steps. 

Step 1: overview

Making an overview of published scientific research and identifying the lessons that can be learned from those findings. At the same time, we are mapping a network of stakeholders.

Step 2: practical research

Conducting three studies in actual practice to see how safe and sustainable circular products are now, and what this means for the methodology that needs to be developed.

These 3 studies are:

  1. Biocapture of CO2 from the air using algae, followed by chemical production based on microalgal technology.
  2. Circular design of plastic medical devices.
  3. The use of nanomaterials in solar panels.

We take a number of criteria into account for case selection:

  • Is the solution or product circular?
  • Does it involve design/innovation?
  • Does safety / sustainability play a role?
  • Is there data (or data about the design or material) available and is there willingness to share it?
  • Is the outcome of the case study used? Is there a possibility for adjustments in the (production) process/management based on sustainability/safety?
  • If relevant, does the company/designer know the chain and can we collaborate with partners in the chain?

Step 3: methodology

Designing an integrated methodology that can be used in design processes as widely as possible. The methodology should also be able to contribute to business processes, for instance in writing a business strategy. For that reason, in addition to looking at product design, we also take a look at what is possible farther down the chain. 

Expected Result

DIRECT will deliver a practical method that designers can use to determine the safety and sustainability of their product right at the start of the design process.

In addition, DIRECT contributes to the creation of a network of companies and people who collaborate with RIVM in developing this methodology, and possibly other methods as well.

DIRECT started in 2019 and will continue until 2022. The method for safe and sustainable circular design is being developed as part of the RIVM Strategic Programme. Within this programme, RIVM explores current and future topics that have been identified as extremely relevant to society, both now and in the future.

For more information, please contact susanne.waaijers@rivm.nl