Products made from recycled materials need to perk up their design to make consumers drool

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Coca-Cola and Emeco collaborated to solve an environmental problem: Up-cycling consumer waste into a sustainable, timeless, classic chair. Made of 111 recycled PET bottles, the 111 Navy Chair is a story of innovation.
Made of 111 recycled PET bottles, the 111 Navy Chair is an example of design innovation and eco-friendly recycled products.

I was going through some design suggestions recently for products made from recycled materials. My jaw dropped – woman’s accessories included ear rings made from cool-drink cans. A supposedly ingenious product was men’s cuff-links made from recycled laptop keyboard keys. And to top it all, woman’s tote bags made from traffic signs.

There is certainly no limit to the human imagination. You’ve got to give full marks to this sort of creativity gone weird.

But to step back from this world of wacky ideas for recycling waste products, why is it that recycled products are so unappealing to all but the most fanatical green consumer? Where are the must-have products so well designed that consumers drool over them?

At an eco-friendly exhibition I met up with an ecopreneur selling bags (including tote bags) made from tyre tubes. Yes, these bags were robust, sturdy and leak-proof. But you’d need to be so committed to the cause to drape one over your shoulder. The poor guy running this business has got his heart firmly in the right place but his designs don’t leave you salivating.

No wonder then that his main selling channel for his recycled rubber bags are eco–friendly shows and exhibitions. He travels, living like a gypsy, from show to show in the main cities selling his novel wares.

Surely more thought needs to go into the design of products made from recycled materials so that they stand more than a fighting chance against their non eco-friendly competitors?

For me, a brilliant example of what can be achieved with recycled materials were outdoor Navy Chairs made from 111 Coke PET bottles using a US Navy design (I’m not sure why the US Navy was involved in chair design but it’s clearly marked on the product). This is a product with aesthetic appeal. If they weren’t so expensive, I would have ordered half a dozen.

It’s a fact that marketing studies are showing us that there is a growing group of consumers who want to buy products made from recycled materials. But design and marketing are important for any products whether they are eco-friendly or made with little or no environmental considerations.

The start-up or small business owner doesn’t have the huge amounts of capital to run focus groups, psychographic and demographic market surveys and product panels. Yet, there are low-cost ways of testing products and services for design appeal before they are introduced to consumers. Product designers, of which there are so many, would leap at the opportunity to give advice to small start-ups and small businesses who wish to launch “green” products.

“Green” product pioneers could do much better business if they introduced professional product design and marketing into their new product development. Instead of falling in love with their products – one of the biggest mistakes most innovators make whatever the product — they’d first find out if customers like them and want to buy them.

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