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MaterialFlow: Mapping Materials for Designers in the Circular Economy

MaterialFlow is a map of all materials in the recycling/composting/landfill ecosystem currently available to help product designers design.

Photo of David Alan Foster

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Product designers, especially those new to design or wanting to design for markets unfamiliar to them, would be able to speed the process, make better material decisions and support the Circular Economy if they could quickly reference an online guide and/or infographic. The more comprehensive this knowledgebase is the more useful to designers. It also provides a platform for materials manufacturers, recyclers, recovery facilities, municipalities and all other stakeholders in the ecosystem. We are too new to the process of this IDEO Challenge to reach out to collaborators, but have a very high level of confidence that GreenWaste, Recology, and a host of others will be eager to participate. 

Idea Title

MaterialFlow: a Designer's Map for the Circular Economy

Company / Organization Name



Where are you / your team located?

Palo Alto, California, USA, Earth

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Awareness is Step One. Many designers who are new to the Circular Economy are simply not aware of the challenges faced by recyclers who (a) want to do the Right Thing and (b) want to make sustainable profits by doing the Right Thing. MaterialFlow is both an educational program and a design resource.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

All use cases, because MaterialFlow informs the designer, where a lot of the problems can be solved "up front."

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Applicable globally to designers who want to design products in the context of the Circular Economy.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

I would like to make this a project/resource co-sponsored by "" and enlist the help of designers, recyclers and other co-sponsors to make this the most comprehensive resource possible. Scaling MaterialFlow will happen as more communities, design firms, companies and government agencies get involved in building it out so it's applicable to all countries/regions.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Top Idea status would greatly help in making MaterialFlow the best resource available for designers — beginners or seasoned professionals. Having such a resource, supported by all possible collaborators interested in C2C design and the Circular Economy is a way to engage all stakeholders in providing a list of materials that both designers and recyclers can support for both financial and environmental success. We can't do this alone. Top Idea status helps our outreach and digital prototyping.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This idea emerged from participating in the Circular Design Ideation Jam in Palo Alto. Listening to Andrew Shelton of GreenWaste and other participants, it became clear that such a resource would be extremely valuable as a guide and educational tool.

Tell us about your work experience

David is a multifarious designer and parallel entrepreneur. You can get an idea of his work experience here: ... currently industrial design in plastics.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure is currently a sole proprietorship, a blog and a stealth startup to bring AI to assist in reinventing the inventing process.


Join the conversation:

Photo of David Alan Foster

A general comment: Anyone interested in the MaterialFlow project as a team member, collaborator and/or information provider or any kind of stakeholder in this space... Please let us know what role you'd like to play. We will see what happens in the next round before deciding how best to proceed. Do you think the project could get sponsors?

Photo of Andrew

David, apologies if I am being a bit thick, what do you mean by 'sponsors'? It seems to have quite a broad meaning these days.

Photo of David Alan Foster

Simply put, if we win this contest, the contest sponsors will provide some funding. If we don't win this contest, we hope we can continue on and find other sponsors who might be participating companies such as Recology, etc, to support it... although it may depend on the contest rules and agreements. I'll be looking into that...

Photo of Andrew

There is a need there, how that translates into paying $s I am not sure. Bit of a chicken and the egg scenario: money/sponsors are required to build a good website, but money/sponsors are hard to get until the website has been built. I think the IDEO people should comment, along with the Ellen MacArthur foundation.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi David and Andrew!

The terms and conditions for the challenge can be accessed here -

If you have any questions, send me an email -

There are two other submitted ideas in this challenge that you might want to check out: @Base Zero and @Feeding Sustainable Local Designs into Global Distribution Chains 

Photo of Kate Rushton

Base Zero 

Feeding Sustainable Local Designs into Global Distribution Chains 

Photo of David Alan Foster

Hi Kate,
Thanks for the links to BZ and FSLDIGDC! Both great projects and both potential collaborators for the Common Cause! My hope would be to share a common database/knowledgebase while we work our different angles.

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