The Circular Economy Wiki

Adapted from Afterlife: An essential Guide to Design for Disassembly, by Alex Diener (1)

A floss container.

Design for disassembly is a strategy that considers the need to disassemble products for repair, refurbishment or recycling. Will a product need to be repaired? Which parts will need replacement? Who will repair it? How can the experience be simple and intuitive? Can the product be reclaimed, refurbished, and resold? If it must be discarded, how can we facilitate its disassembly into easily recyclable components? By responding to questions like these, the design for disassembly method increases the effectiveness of a product both during and after its first life.

For example, this low-cost floss container embodies the essence of design for disassembly – simple to assemble and disassembled. It’s easy to open, free of glues, screws, or heat stakes. The main component’s material is clearly labelled, and the parts are quickly separated.

Where did design for disassembly come from?[]

Our ancient tools, meticulously crafted from natural materials and intended for repair and reuse, are perhaps the earliest example of design for disassembly. However, during the 1950s, with the creation of consumerism, fuelled by mass production methods, cheap energy, cheap labour, and design fashion, disposability became the norm.

Disposability was also essential to maintain a throughput economy. However, with changing regulations, particularly with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive in Europe (2) there was a shift towards extended producer responsibility. Latterly, the advantages from a circular economy are becoming apparent just as commodity prices manifest a long term rise thus making the notion of designing for a full or continuing cycle more appropriate and economic. This tectonic shift has been recognised as a sign of things to come by global manufacturers, driving interest in the design for disassembly strategy.

According to Alex Diener: “Given environmental and cost constraints, our challenge is as much product de-creation as it is creation. As design for disassembly strategies are applied throughout the entire design cycle; designers will need to educate the team, discover waste, set goals, create solutions, and then monitor results through production, release, use, and end-of-life.”