Category Archive: Sustainable Product Design

  1. If These Products Could Tell Their Stories – NYC Condom – Final Project

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    View a quick comparison on Sustainable Minds by clicking the image below

    Re-visioning the Product Service System

    • Greatest Environmental Leverage for Change: Utilize recyclable materials for packaging. “According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an estimated 10.4 billion male condoms were used worldwide in 2005.” (Source: Avert) According to one study, developing nations alone will need 18.6 billion condoms in 2015. That adds up to millions of pounds of non-recyclable discarded plastic.
    • Greatest Social Leverage for Change:
      • Follow the UK company, French Letter, ethical condom model by using only fair trade latex rubber to help ensure that rubber tappers receive fair wages and work under fair working conditions
      • Build in a social change incentive such as Sir Richards where for each condom purchased, a condom is donated to the developing world
      • Using condoms helps prevent unwanted pregnancy and would aid in slowing population growth thus reducing carbon emissions
      • Using condoms helps prevent STIs which can require costly treatment such as ARV (antiretrovirals) drugs for HIV/AIDS.
  2. Condoms and Sustainable Product Design

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    The NYC Condom program was launched February 14, 2007. The program distributes more than 3 million condoms each month throughout the five boroughs to various locations free of charge.

    Condoms are a barrier used primarily during sexual intercourse to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STI transmission. Condoms have been manufactured out of a variety of materials for centuries, however rubber condoms were first used in 1855 and the modern latex condoms were were first used 1920. Due to latex sensitivities and the less effective nature of sheepskin, alternatives to latex were later developed. Polyutherane condoms were created in 1994 and Polyisoprene in 2008. When used correctly, condoms are approximately 95% – 98% effective in preventing STI transmission and pregnant. Currently there are approximately 60 condom companies worldwide producing 8 to 12 billion condoms each year.

    Until the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, condom production was not carefully regulated. While earlier regulation existed in some capacity, it was not strictly enforced. Early rubber condoms were created by dipping glass molds into raw rubber and required adding gasoline or benzene to liquify the rubber. Latex condoms were easier to product and could be formed using water to suspend the rubber instead of toxic gasoline and benzene which were noted as fire hazards in condom factories. Additional benefits to latex condoms were their durability and increased strength as well as thinner material which is believed to increase sensitivity for the users. They also last significantly longer—5 years compared to the three months shelf life of earlier rubber condoms. Other health concerns include the use of a carcinogenic talc on the condom.

    Today’s latex condoms, such as NYC Condom brand condoms, are biodegradable. However, polyurethane condoms are not biodegradable. Condoms are most frequently sealed in a foil or plastic packaging. It is unclear to me whether these materials can be recycled or if they are biodegradable. Companies such as Yulex are experimenting with alternative sources such as allergen free rubber. According to my conversation with the company, it will take several years for the product to come to come to market. The U.S. brand, Sir Richard, will bring a new product to market by creating an ethical brand around the donation of one condom per condom purchased to be donated to the developing world.

    The major US condom brands are manufactured both in the US and abroad. NYC Condoms, the focus of this study, are manufactured by LifeStyle which produce their products in India and Thailand. Other manufacturing locations include:
    • Trojan: U.S.A.
    • NaturaLamb: U.S.A.
    • Durex: Spain, U.K., India, and Thailand
    • Kimono: Japan
    • Beyond Seven and Crown: Japan

    I’ve yet to decipher how NYC Condoms makes money as they are distributed for free. NYC Condoms are a project of the NY State Department of Health. As for the larger condom / safer sex / barrier industry, these products are produced far less expensively outside of the US (at 2 cents a piece compared to 5 cents a piece in the US). Trojan-ENZ Lubricated Premium Latex Condoms (12-pack) cost 63 cents a piece which is 12 times the manufacturing cost. Trojan Ultra Thin Lubricated Premium Latex Condoms (12-pack) cost $1.09 a piece, 21 times the manufacturing cost. So the potential for a high profit margin appears rather significant.

    In the US, condoms are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure their safety and effectiveness. European condoms that have undergone quality and safety testing are marked by the letters CD. In the UK, Kitemark appears on approved condoms. Other countries have their own testing, regulation, and marking system. The WHO (World Health Organization) has established an international standard which involves checking for holes, bursting volume and pressure, as well as other visible defects.

    There are an immense number of advocates promoting condom usage throughout the world as it is one of the most effective measures in preventing STI transmission, HIV infection, and unplanned pregnancies when used correctly. The list is so large and diffuse, I will refrain from listing it here but doctors, harm reductionists, social works, NGOs focused on HIV/AIDS, sex work, MSM, reproductive heath and wellbeing, etc. are all significant advocates for condoms. The only organizations and individuals I was able to find who oppose condoms do so for religious reasons without footing in science or health research. In Muslim regions of Kenya, condoms are highly stigmatized because they are believed to be needed only by prostitutes or those having affairs and engaging in such activity is against g-d. Similarly, the pope believes that abstinence is preferred. While it is true abstinence, when practiced perfectly, is the most effective way to prevent HIV/AIDS, STIs, and unplanned pregnancy, abstinence only education has proven to be a tremendous failure worldwide.

    Research into the impact of condom production and manufacturing on workers’ health has been difficult to come by. However, I would be in full support of a model where workers are collectized, unionized, and/or the business was a worker-owned cooperative. Clearly their is an opportunity to fill this information gap so that the research to be made public and transparent around the working conditions and impacts on worker health.

    In the west, stigma around sex outside of marriage continue to decrease and barriers to purchasing effective contraception such as decreasing cost and stigma are helping make access to condoms ever easier. Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS worldwide, condoms have become an important part of fighting the epidemic and are an important resource for both individual and public health.


  3. Clothing, Textiles & Garment Life Cycle Analysis


    Update: I will be focus on a Leg Avenue brand of hosiery.

    I decided to focus on the clothing/textiles/garment industry as the research subject for the rest of the semester. It holds a certain power for me as my maternal lineage consists of tailors, seamstresses, and shoemakers. A common history for Ashkenazim who fled Eastern Europe, my great grandparents settled in the Lower East Side where my great grandmother was a garment industry worker at the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. As someone who rarely buys “new” clothing (my wardrobe has changed fairly in the past decade with the exception of my penchant for vintage dresses which are now about 50-60 year old garments), I am fascinating about the life cycle of various textiles throughout the world being manufactured at different periods of time.

    The textile industry has been wrought with problems at every stage of the life cycle from the poor treatment of workers and working conditions (sweatshops, et. al.) to formaldehyde treated fabric to large companies such as H&M being publicly shamed (and rightfully so) for shredding unsold garments instead of donating them to those in need. I am interested in learning about every stage of the life cycle of this material and product.

    Start doing deep dive research into your chosen product to review, focused on product origin, and share your findings on your blog. Where is this product made? What were you not able to discover?

    Textiles are made from both organic (as in naturally occuring or plant based materials) and inorganic (as in synthetic) materials. Fibers that make up textiles come from materials more explicitly such as plants (hemp, cotton, linen, bamboo), animal (wool, alpaca, insects (silk), and crude oil(!). Synethic materials are made of all sorts of confusing things.

    Textiles used for clothing are frequently made in Bangladesh, China, India and Sri Lanka as wages are significantly lower than for workers in the global north. Not surprisingly, globalization is the most contributing factor to the poor working conditions of garment workers.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Used, unwearable clothing was once used for quilts, rag, rugs, bandages, and many other household uses. It could also be recycled into paper. Now it is usually thrown away. Used but still wearable clothing can be sold at consignment shops, dress agencies, flea markets, online auction, or donated to charity.

    There are many concerns about the life cycle of synthetics which come primarily from petrochemicals. Unlike natural fibers, their source is not renewable (in less than millions of years) and they are not biodegradable.”

    However, specific brands work towards running sustainable and ethical business practices ranging from vertical integration to worker owned-cooperative to organic fibers and materials used in their products. Well known American Apparel is one of them (despite the highly sexualized nature of their advertisements…) and assorted manufacturers such as Justice Clothing and No Sweat Apparel.

    Below are some of the studies I’ve found:

  4. An interview with a local foods consumer

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    For this assignment, I interviewed my friend Carmichael who is a 4th street co-op member & has sold local food.  She works at Angelica’s Kitchen, a vegan restaurant that buys local food whenever possible. She would not use the word locavore to describe herself even though this is the term used in our assignment. Carmichael noted that it is nearly, if not simply, impossible to be a “locavore” in New York City. One would only be able to eat locally while food is available in the region. My interview is below:

    Q.) Why would you choose to eat local?

    • Food tastes better & is fresher.
    • it didn’t travel as far, has lower carbon footprint.
    • clearer sense of where it comes from as she talks to farms and those in food production
    • local food in nyc = smaller scale farms
    • organic or done with consideration of the land unlike large scale farms

    Q.) When did you first develop consciousness around local food?

    • wanted to be a vegan cook as she was a vegan and went to the natural gourmet culinary school in nyc
    • she learned about where to get whole foods, not packaged foods and then to co-ops and farmers markets
    • when she started working at angelica’s, they got great produce

    Q.) Tell me something something you’ve noticed about local foods?

    • If you buy local beans, they cook way faster because they haven’t been sitting in a warehouse for a year
    • local food tastes better. so many more local options available – local popcorn, grains, and flour. Wildhide Farm at union square and 4th street co-op.

    Q.) What foods can you get locally here?

    • winter: apples, root veggies, artichokes, turnips, potatoes, grains
    • spring: nettles (spinach-like), fiddle-head ferns, baby greens, ramps, garlic scapes,
    • summer: tomatoes, summer squash, leafy greens (broccoli, etc.)
    • fall: squashes with thicker skins ex. pumpkins and butternut squash, root veggies, onions and garlic.

    Q.) Can you tell me about your garden?

    • moved to neighborhood to have garden
    • put tons of work into a pile of trash yard into a garden. but there was no sunlight.
    • also had to deal with aphids. in larva stage, they can already become pregnant. reproduce very fast and then eat the plants. very difficult to get rid of. they also got fungus on pumpkins and then cucumbers and killed them.
    • kale, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs were very successful.

    Q.) Is eating local affordable?

    • yes when it is season.
    • co-ops are good because you can get 20%  off.
    • CSAs are cheaper.
    • winter CSAs also exist with potatoes, spelt, and eggs.
  5. Product Life Cycle Analysis: Flat Panel Display Monitors

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    “Human health and ecological toxicity potentials due to heavy metal content in waste electronic devices with flat panel displays”

    Journal of Hazardous Materials

    What were the system boundaries chosen by the authors of the study?

    What life cycle stage had the greatest impact?

    This study focused specifically on CRTs and LCDs, as used for computer desktop displays. These devices are known for their heavy metal components which eventually turn into gas and are deposited into the water. Apparently what turns into ash then leaches into the water, so inevitably all of these toxins get into our water system.

    The US-centric metrics used by the U.S. EPA in this case began in 1995 and is used to measure data in this study. The author notes that an average was taken based on location but, however, did not include occupational exposure in the data.

    The potential human health toxicity and exotoxicity were determined by something the author defined as pathway and impact models averaging “toxicity potentials, sales volume over time, product weights, lifetimes of each device, and the fraction of devices landfilled and incinerated.” These devices totaled less than 1% of landfill/incinerated waste set at .82% in 2006 and .85% in 2005.

    I was disturbed to learn that LCD screens contain arsenic (improved clarity of the screen) and mercury is found in backlit LCD models. A conductive film in LCDs can cause lung disease and/or cancer. If  these products continue to be made with heavy metals and continue to be incinerated or placed in landfills, they will continue to poison the air and water.

    According to the study, cancer potentials from laptops and LCD monitors will most likely increase significantly between 2009-2011. Furthermore, plasma TVs will become a significant part of the equation in 2021. This is all very scary stuff. It was difficult for me to decipher from this study the greatest impact other than I assume “end of life” when materials are disposed of and the toxic heavy metals seep into our water supply and into the air.