Sustainability Challenge - STREAMLINE

Re-engineer an existing plastic product’s shape or material to reduce its environmental impacts

One path to reducing the amount of plastic in the world is to eliminate its use at the source! This streamline challenge pathway is about reducing the amount of plastic used in our everyday objects.

For this challenge, you will select from one of our proposed objects—or choose your own—and re-engineer the product’s shape to use less plastic in its manufacture.

The evolution of the single-use plastic water bottle is an example of the streamline pathway in practice. Manufactures realized that the standard bottle shape was overdesigned, and that they could reduce the total material used while maintaining its purpose.

As can be seen in these images, reducing the thickness of the bottle reduced its radial strength, but design cues such as the crinkling sound of the bottle signal that the user shouldn’t squeeze too hard. Ribs were then added to strengthen the bottle axially, so that it retains its structural integrity when stacked several bottles high in shipping pallets.

The end result is an improved design with the same function, but using fewer resources.

As with the water bottle, there are several strategies you can use to streamline plastic objects

  • Lightweight the object. Many of our everyday objects are over-designed, using more plastic than they need to fulfill their function. You can select an object to re-engineer its geometry, thickness, number of parts, etc. to reduce its weight of plastic.
  • Reduce overdesigning: You can use Simulation tools to see how an object performs against the expected levels of force.
  • Alter the design shape to include design elements such as ribs, which allow you to add strength without extra weight; or cutouts, which allow you to remove material without compromising strength.
  • Choose alternate materials in the object. Another way to reduce plastic at the source is to use a stronger polymer that requires less plastic. This could mean switching types of plastic based on the density, pliability, or rigidity required in the product.

To help you select an object to streamline, here is a list of the types of plastic polymers, and their most common uses:

plastic packaging

(source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation)

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Streamline pathway