Sustainable Production Talk Series: “Sustainable Design for End of Life” with Richard Kirkman

Sustainable Production Talk Series: “Sustainable Design for End of Life” with Richard Kirkman

Posted 30 March 2020 by Katie Kubrak

In an exclusive interview, an established and globally recognised trendsetter – Li Edelkoort – told Dezeen that the Covid-19 crisis was causing a “quarantine of consumption”, which in turn will have a profound cultural and economic impact that will shape this decade. As people might travel less, buy more locally sourced everything and learn to live with fewer possessions and activities, the design community will need to re-frame, re-make and re-learn the design process. This process needs to be CMF-driven (colour, material, finish), enabling each product to be designed for death at the beginning of its life.

As a result, this Material Monday, we go back to insight and knowledge shared by Richard Kirkman in his talk titled “Sustainable design for end of life”.

Richard Kirkman is a Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at Veolia UK & Ireland. University of Leeds alumni and works with Imperial College. He is also a board member responsible for Technology & Innovation to resource the world with materials, water and energy. Delivering on Waste Treatments, Media Relations, Renewable Energy, Fleet Electrification, Planning and Construction. All his professional activates are driven by a strong circular economy focus and need to deliver innovative solutions.

Making use of a large selection of materials, the packaging industry has become one of the most prominent sectors for Veolia. This includes processing of 300mln milk bottles annually into pellets in its East London facility. As depicted on the infographic below, this process isn’t easy and consists of numerous steps. The efficiency of these steps and amount of material processed, however, will rely on whether the product / packaging was designed for death.


Why? Because when, ahead of creating shapes and aesthetics, the design team focuses on selection of materials, ingredients from which colours are made and finishes applied to surfaces, it becomes much more effective to apply the principles of sustainable design in the context of circular economy. Doing so, the creative team can also improve consumer compliance at the point of disposal.

The latter is crucial as a large portion of packaging can be lost at each stage of the recycling journey. The chart presented below illustrates that to achieve a recycling rate of just 60 per cent requires 90 per cent of people to recycle their packaging and recycle 90 per cent correctly for 90 per cent of the time with collection loss accounting for only 10 per cent and reprocessing losses also being equal to just 10 per cent.

(Source: Future of Packaging Report, 2019)

The above presented approach and numbers are also in line with Richard’s key statement that the big problem with plastic, or any kind of waste for that matter, is not putting it in the right bin. Therefore, this moment of disposal needs to be built into the design practice, so that material communication can improve and respectively people will know where to put it. He also annotates that “labelling and harmonisation of waste collection will help but it is down to the design community to let people know what to do.”

In addition to the above, consumers are already becoming more excited about what happens to their packaging, what happens to their waste and the carbon impact of these activities. This does present an opportunity for many businesses that are willing to adopt a new set of CMF, sustainable design and circular economy principles. To help with the transition, the government is also reviewing 5 major areas around how we manage and sort our waste in the UK. This includes:

  1. Moving from Packaging Tax to the Extended Producer Responsibility, therefore attempting to influence how things are made.
  2. Deposit Return Scheme, i.e. returning to practices that worked very well in the 1970s in the UK.
  3. 30% Tax, which aims to encourage producers and manufactures to use at least 30% of recycled content in their materials on the ground of facing to pay 30% tax if not compliant.
  4. Labelling; proposing one systemic, comprehensive and uniform material labelling system.
  5. Common collection, which is all about harmonising all local waste collections.

If creative community learns how to design for full lifecycles, thus design for death (also known as design for disassembly), as well as balance the needs of the local authorities, consumers and businesses together, we will see an impressive thrust of sustainable design shining through this crisis and this decade.

If you would like to find out more inspiring talks from our exhibition “Sustainable Stories” across themes of “Sustainable Materials”, “Sustainable Production” and “Sustainable Innovation” please follow this link. Alternatively, to find out more about designing for death / end of life, please feel free to comment here or email us at

Opening of the video features and extract from “The 1975 ft. Greta Thunberg – 1975”: “There is time to turn everything around. We need a system change rather than individual change, but you cannot have one without the other. The main solution is so simple – we have to stop emissions of our greenhouse gases.”