Ecodesign and plastic revaluation

Learn about the sustainable design approaches to reduce the environmental impact of plastic products.


Consumers are increasingly looking for brands and companies that share their values and demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. In response, companies need to show that they are responsible and respectful towards the environment and natural resources. This is of high importance especially for the SMEs[1], as they establish closer relationships with their customers.

Ecodesign, also referred to as environmental design or sustainable design, is an approach to product design that prioritizes minimizing the environmental impact of the product over its entire life cycle.

By applying the principles of ecodesign, companies can reduce their use of resources, minimize waste and pollution, and create more sustainable and eco-friendly products. This helps to strengthen the brand’s overall sustainability efforts and demonstrates their commitment to the environment.

The principles of ecodesign include the use of sustainable materials, the creation of closed-loop systems, and the design of products that are easy to disassemble and recycle. These principles, when applied effectively, can lead to a reduction in the amount of plastic waste and the creation of a market of products containing revaluated plastic.

In this topic, the concept of ecodesign, its differences with traditional design of products, the ecodesign principles and strategies as well as its implications to plastic revaluation are explained.


Ecodesign can be defined as “systematic incorporation of environmental aspects into product design, with the aim to reduce its impact through its entire life cycle”[2]. This method seeks to reduce the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle, from conception to disposal. Ecodesign aims to minimize the use of resources, reduce emissions and pollutants, and prevent potential contamination associated with the product.

For companies, design is a crucial factor in competitiveness and it is important to incorporate environmental and sustainability criteria into product design. In today’s society, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact of their consumption and are demanding products that are not only of high quality and cost-effective, but also environmentally responsible. This is why companies must consider the environment as a key factor in their overall activity and integrate it into the product design process.

There are lots of definitions of Ecodesign, such as the one previously mentioned and others, like for example “action that considers environmental impacts at all stages of the design and development process, to achieve products that generate the as less environmental impact as possible through its entire life cycle”[3].

Ecodesign is more than just ensuring that design is environmentally friendly. It is a systematic approach to environmental management that involves the integration of a methodology based on the identification, control and continuous improvement of all environmental aspects of the company’s products. By following this approach, companies (especially SMEs) can demonstrate their commitment to the environment and enhance their reputation as a responsible and sustainable brand.

Ecodesign does not replace the traditional stages of product design and development, but rather provides a fresh perspective by including sustainability as a fundamental requirement. Traditional design and ecodesign are two different approaches to product design that have distinct goals and methodologies.

Traditional design is focused on creating products that are functional, attractive, and meet the needs of the market. It is driven by considerations such as aesthetics, cost, and usability, and often prioritizes these factors over environmental concerns.

Ecodesign, on the other hand, is focused on creating products that minimize the environmental impact throughout their life cycle. As stated before, it aims to reduce the use of resources, minimize waste, and reduce pollution.

In traditional design, the environment is typically considered only at the end of the design process and as a secondary concern, if at all. In ecodesign, the environment is considered throughout the design process, and is integrated into the design criteria and decision-making process.

Traditional design often results in products that are designed for a single use and have a short lifespan, while ecodesign aims to create products that are durable, easy to disassemble, repair, and recycle, and that have a long lifespan.

The distinction between traditional design and ecodesign process is depicted in Figure 1:

Figure 1. Comparative of design steps in traditional design and ecodesign. Adapted from Ecosign Project. Unit 2: Traditional design versus Ecodesign.

Within the Ecodesign, there are several principles that should be considered for the development of each product:

  • Life cycle thinking: Ecodesign takes into account the entire life cycle of a product, from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal or recycling of the product at the end of its life.
  • Resource efficiency: Ecodesign aims to reduce the use of resources, such as energy and materials, and to increase the efficiency of resource use throughout the product’s life cycle.
  • Pollution prevention: Ecodesign aims to reduce or eliminate pollution and negative impacts on the environment throughout the product’s life cycle.
  • Systems thinking: Ecodesign considers the interconnections and interdependencies between different parts of a product or system, and between different products or systems.
  • Design for reuse and recycling: Ecodesign aims to make products and systems that are easy to disassemble, repair, and recycle, in order to minimize waste and conserve resources.
  • Design for durability: Ecodesign aims to create products and systems that are durable and have a long life, in order to reduce the need for replacement and disposal.
  • Innovation: Ecodesign encourages the development of new technologies, materials, and processes that can help to reduce the environmental impact of products and systems.
  • Collaboration: Ecodesign requires the collaboration of different stakeholders, such as designers, engineers, manufacturers, and policymakers, in order to develop effective solutions.
  • Communication: Ecodesign encourages clear and transparent communication of environmental information to consumers, in order to help them make more informed decisions about the products they buy.
  • Continuous improvement: Ecodesign is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring, evaluation and improvement to achieve the best results.

In addition to these principles, there are several ecodesign strategies that follow two fundamental premises:

  • Reduce the consumptions of resources (raw materials, components, energy…).
  • Reduce/minimize waste generation.

The Lifecycle Design Strategies (LiDS) Wheel[4] (Figure 2) is a tool that helps designers and product developers to understand the different stages of a product’s life cycle and to apply ecodesign principles at each stage. It allows to divide the implementation methodology in four differentiated levels: conceptualization, manufacture, application and end of life.

Figure 2. The LiDS Wheel. Based on Brezet & Hemel (1997).

The wheel is divided into eight sections, each representing a different stage of the product life cycle, including:

  • New concept development: Dematerialisation; shared use of the product; integration of functions; functional optimisation.
  • Selection of low-impact materials: Cleaner materials; renewable materials; lower energy content materials; recycled materials; recyclable materials.
  • Reduction of materials usage: Reduction in weight; reduction in volume.
  • Optimisation of production techniques: Alternative techniques; fewer production steps; lower/cleaner energy consumption; less production waste; fewer or cleaner production consumables.
  • Optimisation of distribution system: Less/cleaner/reusable packaging; energy-efficient transport; energy-efficient logistics.
  • Reduction of impact during use: Lower energy consumption; cleaner energy source; fewer consumables needed; cleaner consumables.
  • Optimisation of initial lifetime Reliability and durability; easier maintenance and repair; modular product structure; classic design; strong product-user relation.
  • Optimisation of end-of-life system: Reuse of product; remanufacturing/refurbishing; recycling of materials; safer incineration.

These strategies highlight a number of considerations which should be applied during the development of a new product. All these strategies are closely related to the lifecycle, providing each one applicable principles to each stage through which the product undergoes. It is important to taking into account that due to the close relationship between the different strategies and the stages of the lifecycle, when implementing the strategies, the impact of one stage must be considered and not transferred to another one.

Ecodesign can be useful for plastic by designing products that use less plastic. This can be achieved by using renewable and biodegradable materials or by using recycled plastic in products. This not only reduces the amount of plastic waste, but it also helps to create a market for recycled plastic to create new revaluated products.

Another way ecodesign can be helpful for plastic revaluation is by designing products that are easy to disassemble and recycle. This includes using modular design, so that individual components can be easily replaced or repurposed. This makes it easier to revaluate plastic waste and reduces the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills or the ocean.

Plastic revaluation can be empowered by ecodesign by creating closed-loop systems. This includes using composting systems and recycling programs that reduce the amount of plastic waste and revaluate it into new products. This not only reduces the amount of plastic waste, but it also creates a market for recycled plastic ready to be transformed into revaluated products.

In addition to these strategies, ecodesign can also be useful for plastic revaluation by promoting awareness and education about the environmental impact of plastic waste. This includes creating awareness campaigns and educational materials that highlight the importance of reducing plastic waste and the benefits of its revaluation.

In June 2019, an interesting report from the international NGO ECOS (Environmental Coalition on Standards) proposed the application of ecodesign principles to plastic products with a lifecycle perspective[5]. Figure 3 shows the lifecycle of plastic within the five ecodesign principles which influence each stage. The detailed approaches and examples of application for each principle are the following:

Sourcing: Design for sustainable sourcing

  1. Virgin raw materials from sustainably managed production processes e.g. sourcing of oil from sources without oil drilling in fragile eco-systems, likelihood of oils spills; sourcing from sources with meaningful environmental management systems in place.
  2. Sourcing renewable raw materials from sustainably managed sources e.g. avoiding food conflict, avoiding land-use changes, no sourcing from protected areas.
  3. Traceable recycled materials as secondary raw materials e.g. recyclers providing information about sources of recyclates and content of substances of concern.

Production: Design for optimised resource use

  1. Avoid unnecessary plastic use e.g. by using non-material alternatives.
  2. Reduce amount of plastic material e.g. avoid over-packaging, over-design.
  3. Use recycled material not containing hazardous substances e.g. minimum recycled content.
  4. Use of biobased plastic materials from sustainable sourcing. More specifically: in the case where biobased plastic materials are used (e.g. to reduce use of fossil resources) the raw materials must originate from sustainably managed sources (see Design for sustainable sourcing).
  5. Use plastics with lower embedded energy e.g. by using plastic types with lower cumulated energy demand (or virgin oil).

Use phase: Design for environmentally sound and safe use phase

  1. Minimise exposure to substances of concern during use e.g. using (old) plastic parts for stove heating in developing countries.
  2. Minimise particle emissions during use e.g by improving abrasion resistance.
  3. Minimise likelihood of littering e.g. by avoiding the need to separate small parts of the product before or during use.

Repair and re-use: Design for prolonged product use

  1. Reusable plastic containing products e.g. by designing at system level closed-loop take-back and re-use systems.
  2. Repairable plastic containing products, including modularity, easy disassembly and availability of spare parts.
  3. Durable and upgradable plastic containing products e.g. by increasing mechanical performance of plastic/-parts.

End-of-life: Design for recycling

  1. Collectable & sortable products e.g. avoid paper sleeves or other materials covering the products surface in a way which hinders easy identification of a plastic product by the user.
  2. Easy dismantling of products e.g. use types of connections that allow separation of plastic parts under existing treatment conditions.
  3. Use of recyclable polymers and polymer blends using existing recycling infrastructure e.g. use of polymer types for which current recycling streams exist.
  4. Targeted and informed re-use of specific technical properties including specific functional additives. e.g. re-use UV stabilised plastic for outdoor use.
  5. Eliminate substances of concern e.g. avoid substances of very high concern (SVHCs), avoid substances disturbing efficiency of recycling processes and secondary raw material quality.
Figure 3. Circular product and plastics lifecycle Source: Based on the report For better not worse: Applying ecodesign principles to plastics in the circular economy.

In conclusion, the benefits of applying ecodesign principles to plastic revaluation are numerous and significant. By reducing the environmental impact of plastics, creating new business opportunities, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, improving the product life cycle, promoting closed-loop systems, and improving sustainability, ecodesign can help to create a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly use and valorisation of plastics.

Case studies & Examples

The ecodesign principles and strategies have already been successfully applied by some companies to create revaluated plastic products. Here we show the achieved results with different kind of products.

Humanscale is a large company from the US that designs products to improve the comfort and health of office workers. In their Ocean Chair line of products, the company is now incorporating nearly 0.9 kg of recovered nylon from fishing nets in each chair. Every time their newest task chair Path is produced, 23,000 kWh of energy are created, while 15,000 gallons of water are saved, and 10,000 lbs. of ocean plastic are upcycled.

Their products are audited and validated under their Living Product Challenge, the most rigorous test of sustainability that requires manufacturers to make their own operations net positive across seven impact categories. The environmental philosophy of the company is taken into account at every stage of product development through a design for environment process. The durability and upgradeability of products is also considered.

Vivobarefoot designs footwear to be wide, thin and flexible: as close to barefoot as possible. They work with recycled materials in their shoes, such as PET (recycled plastic bottles), partially recycled rubber soles, foam insoles, nylon heels, and duvets produced from excess material from a Pakistani cooperative.

Designs include stitched structures to reduce the amount of adhesive or use water-based adhesives when required. The amount of pollutants and heavy metals in the tanning process is reduced by using vegetable tanned leather. Shoes are design to be as light as feasible. Weight is an important aspect of ecodesign because lightweight shoes will generate a lower carbon footprint in global shipping.

VEPA is a top five furniture business in the Netherlands. They try to avoid the use of fossil raw materials and consequently, the use of virgin plastics in their products. According to the company philosophy, all plastic parts of the furniture must be safe and recyclable. They only use parts of which the material, origin and potential for reuse and recycling can be fully traced.

They have designed several products of its catalogue to be made of felt coming from recycled PET bottles. The pressed PET felt can be re-used after usage, so no waste is created. In addition, they ensure that the plastic parts returned by their clients are reintroduced into the cycle as raw materials for new products. In 2021, they saved about 80,000 kilos of virgin plastic by using post-consumer recycled plastic (PP) for new products.



Basic concepts on Ecodesign (active subtitles).

Papers (press articles, guides, reports):

Ecodesign of plastic packaging. Core guidelines. Eco Design of Plastic Packaging Round Table.

PlasticsEurope’s Views on Eco-design with Plastics within the Circular Economy. Plastics Europe, association of plastic manufacturers.

Graphical content (infographics, schemes, slide presentation):

Social media posts:

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Course):

[1] Small and Medium Enterprises.

[2] Definition from Ecosign Project.

[3] EN ISO 14006:2020. Environmental management systems. Guidelines for incorporating ecodesign. 

[4] Brezet H, Van Hemel C (1997) Ecodesign: a promising approach to sustainable production and consumption. UNEP, Paris

[5] Le Blevennec, K., Jepsen, D., Rödig, L., Vanderreydt, I., & Wirth, O. (2018). For Better Not Worse: Applying Ecodesign Principles to Plastics in the Circular Economy. ECOS, VITO and ÖKOPOL. Belgium, Brussels.