This month we caught up with Dan Dicker, founder of Circular & Co. Dan is an experienced Product Designer who spent a few years working at Dyson before setting up his company at Circular & Co.
Like us, he passionately believes that the future is circular and can help to protect our planet, not just for now but for years to come. He's now on a mission to inspire and educate everyone about circular design by regenerating used things into new things over and over again so that nothing is wasted.
Hi Dan, it’s great to have you here with us. Could you tell how you started Circular & Co and what motivated you to pioneer the concept of circular design?
Other than a desire to be closer to the coast, my professional and moral frustration with working for Dyson was the knowledge that technically we could be designing and making products from recycled or waste materials but commercially it wasn’t deemed viable. When I left Dyson I was 100% determined to make the principle of using up materials we already had.
What product did you design first and why?
A tide clock, it’s a wall clock with a modified time mechanism that rotates every 12hrs and 25 minutes which is the average time the tides move by. With my interest in water sports, I realised how useful and convenient this could be so I set about designing a simple timeless design that everyone would find complemented their home. Naturally, it was made from recycled materials, and in fact, my mum lent me my first £96 to buy the first batch of components.
Where are the waste materials sourced from?
Twenty years ago it was extremely hard to source any sort of recycled material. Over the years we’ve often had to develop our own methods of collection and processing to enable us to hold reliable stock of material. We were the first company in the UK to set up a collection, recycling, and reuse scheme for the humble plant pot. It was a nationwide scheme where anyone could bring old pots to a garden centre and be met with a selection of useful products made from the same old redundant pots. It just shows how a new circular design approach to products has to involve the entire supply chain - it’s a systems approach to design.
Their bestselling Circular Cup is the world’s first reusable cup made from recycled single-use paper cups.
What would you say, if any, were the biggest challenges you faced starting up Circular & Co?
Sourcing - the availability of recycled materials which to a large extent is down to a lack of recycling infrastructure and well from us, the public in general. It’s easy to state or claim that a product made from waste would have grown much faster if the public would buy more sustainably but the reality is that’s not the case. It’s our job as designers to offer people products that work for them, that they would love to buy anyway. It just so happens that it's made from waste and has sustainability built into it. It’s not down to us as individuals to make good choices, it’s about making any choice a good one.
How would you summarise the positive impacts you are making in the fight against single-use products?
There is the practical side - any product designed from waste and then fully recyclable keeps valuable materials in the system much much longer. This means we can reduce waste and pollution as well as reduce CO2 emissions and lower the demand on our finite resources, it’s a win-win. It’s easy to measure the impact of this, but our biggest impact will come from the ‘scale for good’ by promoting Circular Design to all – you, me, and our neighbours. We will then see a real scalable impact. We do a lot of work with big global brands by helping them to adopt more circular practices, which in reality will have a far bigger impact than us as a singular company. The &Co in our name stands for ‘collaboration’, it just won’t happen without it.
What are some small changes or habits that we, as consumers, can do to welcome circularity into our everyday lives?
There are lots and the really good news is they aren’t hard and can have a huge impact. If we want to preserve materials, reduce waste, stop pollution and drive emissions down then the best and simplest way is to reduce our own consumption. In the UK, we on average each consume 17t of ‘stuff’ every year! If we could each lower it from 17t to 16t that would have an enormous impact on the environment itself. Firstly, we should question if we really need the next gadget or latest phone or trainers - just doing this would reduce all of these key challenges overnight. Secondly, try to purchase second-hand where you can. We all love a bargain so it’s a no-brainer. Thirdly if you do have to buy new then buy circular, look for products that are made from waste, designed to last, and fully recyclable. Once a product is at the end of its life remember to recycle it, sell it or give to charity so it can carry on living and giving.
Are there other brands using circular design that you draw inspiration from?
Frustratingly not nearly enough, that’s the chicken and egg situation we face today. We argue to ‘buy circular’ yet it’s still difficult to find fully circular products out there. I can assure everyone that it’s coming though in the next 3-6 years. This is largely driven by legislation and the fact that we are running out of resources, soon brands will have to adopt circularity and tomorrow's products will simply have to be made from today’s waste. We as consumers can turbocharge this by seeking out circular products and driving demand.
What are your plans for the future of Circular & Co?
Are there any new product developments that you can tell us about? Lots and lots, we really see a future in ‘returnables’ as well as ‘reusables’. Still, only around 5% of consumers regularly use a reusable so to challenge the other 95% of global brands we are looking to offer packaging as ‘returnables’ which you essentially borrow and then bring back. Whether it’s a pint glass or cutlery we’ve been handing things back to use again for years. The concept of being served food or drink in a single-use container that has used up valuable resources, been shipped around the world, used for 10 minutes, and then thrown away and lost forever is mind-bogglingly embarrassing for us all. It’s our job to provide alternatives that make it easy, fun, and rewarding.
One last question, are you hopeful about the future of sustainable products and circular systems?
Of course - we are not so doomed as we are oftentimes we are led to believe. We are completely capable of designing and planning our way out of this waste crisis in a way that makes it easy for us all. It doesn’t need huge mindset shifts just considered circular design approaches. We’ve been at the ’coal face’ of design, big industry, and consumer behaviours for nearly 20 years and now more than ever we believe circularity offers a tangible and commercially viable solution to many of our problems. There is a light at the end of a dark tunnel and boy is it round, it’s big and it’s coming to get you!
Check out Circular & Co to find out more about a circular way of living.