Design for Disassembly

14 June 2023
The concept of Design for Disassembly was first introduced in the early 1990s. It advocates for the environment by recommending products be designed in such a way that they can be easily taken apart at the end of their useful life, with parts then either reused or recycled. In practice this could mean designing with as few materials as possible or using non-permanent fastenings, and these considerations also provide the possibility for self-assembly and repair.

The dental floss container is a good example
of a design that can be easily disassembled.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

A good example is the Wisdom dental floss container (refer image above), which has a single moulded, clam-shell case made from polypropylene (PP), and utilises living hinges to fold into shape. The nylon floss filament is wound onto a bobbin that slots onto an attachment in the centre of the case, whilst the metal cutting blade slots into a grooved depression at the top. Everything is held in place when the snap-jointed case is assembled and all the components can be quickly removed when no longer needed. Interestingly, despite floss containers ably illustrating this sustainable design principle, they are typically not openly promoted for their recycling potential.
Myelin cycle helmet, AIBDC : 009452
Image credit: MoDiP

The labour-intensive process required to separate all of the mixed materials often found within cycling helmets usually results in them being destined for landfill at end-of-life. The Myelin (refer image above), designed by POC, has been specifically engineered to be deconstructed and is made using 50% recycled plastics materials. Built with as few parts as possible, it has a polyester fabric outer shell that covers the expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner, adopts interlocking parts that hold each other securely in place (avoiding the use of adhesives) and the chin strap runs through the entire helmet, removing the need for several separate anchored sections.
Bird headphones, AIBDC : 008193
Image credit: MoDiP

Dutch company Gerrard Street, now renamed Repeat Audio, was set up in 2015 to produce a modular headphone with parts that could be easily replaced and upgraded. Offered through a subscription service, the headphones are designed to be sent through the post for easy assembly at home. As individual parts get worn or broken, customers can return the obsolete components for replacement, free of charge, with 85% of this e-waste being either reused or recycled. This circular design model allows the company to maintain full control over production materials because it retains ownership of the product. It also provides the incentive to produce durable headphones in order to maximise income through extending use cycles. MoDiP’s pair (refer image above) are refurbished.
Nike ISPA Link trainers, AIBDC : 009459
Image credit: MoDiP

Using glue and other bonding elements to cement shoe components together typically causes problems for recycling and usually results in the entire shoe being shredded, an energy-intensive process with limited application for the recyclate. Released in 2022, the Nike ISPA Link trainers require no glue in their construction but instead have modular parts that are held together through tension. The single material, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), sole has a series of pegs that slot into openings in the recycled polyester upper. This enables the shoes to be easily disassembled at end-of-life to replace worn parts and recycle materials.
All of these objects can be viewed in the museum on request.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer