CIWM Presidential Report: sector must influence product design to tackle overconsumption

New CIWM President Tim Walker launches ‘Turning off the tap’, calling for waste and resource managers to become guardians of raw materials

CIWM PresidentThe Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) has released a new report urging the sector to play a more active role in influencing product design to address overconsumption.

The report, 'Turning off the Tap: Why better design can increase resource resilience and reduce consumption', was launched by newly inaugurated CIWM President Tim Walker in Belfast yesterday (20 June).

Walker, who is Chief Executive of local authority waste partnership arc21, emphasised the need for the sector to evolve beyond waste management. He commented: "Resource and waste managers see the results of overconsumption, disposable design and imperfect service models every day in the millions of tonnes of material they handle. One of the issues however is that we have become too good at managing this waste and in doing so we have taken our focus off what's really important – stemming our wasteful behaviour."

The report identifies the burgeoning level of waste globally and highlights how many brands intentionally design products with short lifespans or make them difficult to repair. It emphasises that design can be a powerful tool to reduce environmental impact if applied correctly, starting at the business model level.

Walker added: "Processed items made from multiple materials are not good for the health of the planet, especially at the scale we see today. It's time to seriously address the role of design and development in the creation of 'stuff' and recognise how the resources and waste sector, which is at the nucleus of circularity, can support better decision making to effectively protect our precious resources."

The report acknowledges that designers often lack the agency to make significant changes due to organisational constraints and financial expectations. It proposes working with designers and a wider set of stakeholders to enable circular design.

Key recommendations from the report include:

Recognising CIWM as the trusted professional body for circularity
Supporting collaboration by facilitating cross-industry best practice
Identifying opportunities for regulation to stem the flow of resources
Challenging the sector's role in increasing consumption
Providing feedback to brands and retailers on problematic items to support the reduction in single-use items
Working with other trade organisations to promote the benefits of circularity

The report also emphasises the need for strong leadership, impactful regulation, and the development of circular skills within the industry. It suggests that CIWM should aim to become the course and accreditation provider of choice for circular skills and explore academic course accreditation and support.

Walker, who also sits on the DEFRA Advisory Committee on Packaging (UK) and is a Visiting Research Fellow with Queen's University Belfast looking at the Circular Economy, believes that addressing these issues requires more than just influencing better design, but a comprehensive approach involving various stakeholders and aspects of the industry.

Read the full report: Turning off the Tap: Why better design can increase resource resilience and reduce consumption