Designing with chemicals: Overview of OECD tools

May 16, 2023

Designers must manage risks from chemicals in their circular designs. During the design process and material selection, the negative impact of substances on humans, animals and the environment can be reduced, because 80% of a product's environmental impact is determined at the design stage. Substances of concern are harmful by, for example, making reproduction difficult, being carcinogenic or accumulating in the food chain. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), through their chemicals risk management portal, offers several resources and tools that can help designers in their choices.

Design process from a chemical perspective

Goals, considerations and trade-offs in designing with plastics from a sustainable chemistry perspective are outlined in this OECD report. To support designers and engineers during the design process when selecting a sustainable plastic, the following roadmap is suggested. At each step of the design process, it is important to include considerations around chemicals and their impacts.

Case studies: Material selection for sustainable plastics

For inspiration, this process is put into practice in several in-depth studies for flexible plastic packaging for food, cookie packaging, detergent bottles, flooring and insulation materials.

Assessing risk from chemicals

Various tools and approaches to study the impact of polymers and chemicals are indicated here to design sustainable plastic products. Consider, for example, EPEA's ABC-X Assessment and the APR Design® Guide for Plastics Recyclability.

Replacing harmful chemicals

If the chosen materials are too hazardous to humans, animals and the environment, the designer must select an alternative. The report Guidance on Key Considerations for the Identification and Selection of Safer Chemical Alternatives provides direction for the selection of alternatives. Various frameworks, guides, toolkits and product assessment system can help you replace harmful chemicals in your product and choose an alternative.

Do you suspect you are dealing with substances of concern and want to do something about it? Then start with the CIRCO online learning module ZZS. And check back on our earlier Expert Cafe ZZS and Safe by Design.

Learn more You go to an English version



The circular economy does not arise by itself. CIRCO (a program of TKI-CLICKNL) focuses on getting a new market moving. CIRCO therefore activates - with the support of the government - entrepreneurs and creative professionals to (re)design products, services and business models in order to then do circular business.

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