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Design technology - Here's to life everlasting

What it's all about

How do we inspire our pupils when teaching about environmental issues in design and technology? The essence of our message is often "use less", but using less doesn't solve the problem - it just makes the tube of toothpaste last a bit longer before it runs out, writes Paul Anderson.

The most common approach now is to teach the 6Rs: rethink, reduce, refuse, reuse, recycle and repair. However, a number of organisations and academics are promoting a refinement to this approach, where materials are continually recycled, creating a "circular economy".

In this no-waste approach, the materials we use fall into two categories: biological nutrients such as leaves or wood, which come from the environment and are returned to it to feed the growth of more materials; and technical nutrients such as metals and polymers, which are the "food" for manufacturing cycles.

The juice carton is made from a mix of biological nutrients (card) and technical nutrients (plastic and aluminium). In a circular economy it would be redesigned to use just biological nutrients or to be made from easily separable technical nutrients such as glass or plastic. This is different from the recycling we do today, where high-quality materials end up mixed with other materials, and recycled materials are of lower specification than the originals. Maintaining the material quality would give us the potential to use those materials indefinitely.

For an inspiring lesson on sustainability, how about getting pupils to redesign common products so that they are made from either biological or technical nutrients?

What else?

Explore the 6Rs of sustainability in an extensive scheme of work from HUNTJO. Get creative with old pairs of jeans: try June21's recycled denim presentation.

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