Waste Reduction by Design

Building the Circular Economy in Taiwan

2020 / February

Tina Xie /photos courtesy of Kent Chuang /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

In 2016 The Wall Street Journal praised the Taiwanese as “the world’s geniuses of garbage disposal.” That same year the newly elected government proclaimed that Taiwan was entering the era of the “circular economy” as part of the nation’s “5+2” industrial innovation program. Instantly, the phrase became a buzzword. Nevertheless, many people mistakenly equate the term with recycling. In fact, it is a policy aimed at economic trans­formation that transcends recycling or any one industry as it pushes Taiwan beyond the limit­ations of “OEM” contract manufacturing.


Simply put, a “circular economy” focuses on how not to create waste. Today’s standard linear economic and commercial model takes quite the opposite approach: Natural resources are discovered and exploited; products are manufactured; and consumers throw them away. Resources that had been of value become ever-­growing, headache-inducing piles of garbage. But some people in Taiwan have been working hard to change this “cradle-to-grave” destiny of products and the production and purchasing habits of businesses and consumers that foster it. Through co­operation with both government and industry, and by educating the consuming public, they hope to promote a future in which Taiwan becomes a “circular island.”

Cradle-to-cradle product design

The first international discussions about creating products for a circular economy came with the “cradle to cradle” (C2C) design ethos pioneered by the German chemistry professor Michael Braungart and the American architect William McDonough. “Good design is like nature,” they argued. “There should be no such thing as waste!” At the very start of product design, consideration should be given to how a product will ultimately be broken apart and reused or decomposed to nourish nature.

In Germany in 1987, Braungart founded the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA), a private-sector consultancy, based on C2C principles. Branches were later set up in the Netherlands, Switzer­land, Turkey and Brazil. In 2010 the first Asian branch was opened in Taiwan.

In 2012, the Taiwan Cradle to Cradle Strategic Alliance (C2C Taiwan) was established at the urging of EPEA Taiwan and the ROC’s Environmental Protection Agency. The organization’s goal is to help its members understand C2C concepts and guide them to work together to push implementation of C2C plans within industry. 

Redefine, redesign

“The resource utilization of waste is just the beginning of the circular economy,” insists Charles Huang, chairman of the Taiwan Circular Economy Network. He believes that the old “three Rs” of “reduce, reuse, recycle” need to be supplemented by the “two Rs” of “redefine and redesign.”

“What we really need is cool air, not the recurring expense of purchasing air-­conditioners.” Huang exposes current consumer myths and emphasizes that when consumers “redefine their needs,” industry will change its operating models and redesign its products. The existing  industry model of product replacement as a business goal will change to “serving consumers.” As the longevity of products increases, scheduled maintenance becomes a main source of profits, and waste shrinks.

“If I sell services to you, then you’ll be my lifelong customer.” In addition to reducing waste, product servicing can also boost consumers’ brand loyalty.

In our daily lives, there are so many products for which “the need for a product should be redefined.” Huang cites an example: “Have you ever had a paper cut? If razors were made from paper, they could be composted after use.” Huang excitedly shares how circular design will bring many changes to our lives.

“In fact, Taiwan has an opportunity to become a leader in the circular economy.” Huang, who has participated in many international forums, believes that one of the island’s weak points has become a strength: Many years of operating as an “OEM” contract manufacturing economy has blessed Taiwan with strong manu­facturing abilities as good as those of any European nation. In fact, some European nations want to learn methods of the circular economy from Taiwan.

“Taiwan will end up going the route of the circular economy,” Huang asserts. “The only question is: Will it be sooner or later?” Taiwan’s economy is based around its OEM work, but it relies on imports for its raw materials. Consequently, changing to a circular economic model that leverages its design prowess should be a develop­ment goal.

REnato: Lab for the circular economy

As the concept of the circular economy has taken off, firms that help companies make the most of it have come into being. Estab­lished in 2014, REnato lab takes its name from the English “re” plus the Italian word for “born.” The name represents how the company is using circular economic methods to bring value to seemingly worthless waste products.

Founder Jackie Wang used to be employed at China Technical Consultants, where he worked with government to draw up environmental and energy policies. He discovered that although those policies could impact industry, they didn’t increase the willingness of consumers to purchase en­viron­mental products. Hence, he decided he needed to create comprehensive change from the ground up. Early on, REnato lab mainly focused on making products from waste, such as by turning old tires into chairs. But later Wang realized that there was simply too much waste. “If all of Taiwan’s recycled glass was turned into drinking glasses, every person on the island could have 76 of them each year!” So he decided that instead of focusing on helping industry turn its waste into products, it would be better to tackle the problem at the front end, by reducing the amount of waste created. He thus turned REnato into a consulting firm.

Apart from helping individual companies assess their production of waste, REnato lab also fosters connections among companies, bringing together those involved in waste management and in transforming waste into raw materials, with finished goods producers and sales channels. Only with these con­nections is it possible to design products for the circular economy. In addition to consulting about products, another service it offers is assisting companies to adjust their commercial models to the circular economy. For instance, it helped Acer establish collection points for old electronic products and batteries at 7-Elevens throughout Taiwan, making recycling easy for consumers.

Although it has transformed into a consultancy, REnato lab still handles product design work. It has even established a ­library of materials that allows designers to get a true feel for materials so they can better produce suitable products. “Our laboratories are other people’s factories.” Wang says that REnato lab defines itself as “a labora­tory for the circular economy” that tries to make products out of customers’ materials. Afterwards, if the customer is willing, it can get these products rolling off the production line just a few days later.

But REnato lab wants to have an impact on the public too. At the “Future Is Now” exhibition at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park last year, REnato provided the public with various ways to learn how life could play out in a circular economy. The exhibition also overturned some widely held myths about products designed for the circular economy—namely that they aren’t beautiful or durable.

“Environmental education ought to provide consumers with understanding based on experience—understanding that en­genders support for environmentalism.” Wang believes that dogma only leads to rules, whereas real change comes from true understanding.

Taiwan’s challenge: Brands and resources

Huang and Wang, who both have rich experience in the environmental realm, separ­ately make the same point—that branding and resource allocation are the biggest challenges facing Taiwan in developing the circular economy.

Wang explains that consumers in Taiwan typically raise the same question about products in the circular economy: “Why does recycled stuff have to be so expensive?”

Yet Taiwan’s public has demonstrated greater acceptance of recycled goods in recent years. For instance, Adidas has made sneakers out of recycled ocean plastics, while Nike has made them from PET bottles. But those aren’t Taiwanese brands. “For a domestic brand, these products might not bear the same value.” Wang believes that Taiwan’s design prowess has achieved a certain level of international recognition, but brands that market products designed for the circular economy still need more exposure.

If Taiwan wants to develop the circular economy, Huang believes, then small and medium-sized enterprises must be the initiators. Larger firms are too unwieldy to make anything more than minor adjustments at first, whereas SMEs are more flexible, more nimble in their thinking, and more capable of making overarching changes. Wang believes that if the government can allocate resources that give SMEs more opportunities to develop within the circular economy, then it will allow those concepts to mature more quickly within industry as a whole. 

As an alternative commercial model, the circular economy takes an environmental perspective that puts resources in a new light, allowing them to be continually renewed as they circulate through the economy. With Taiwan currently facing shortages of water, electricity and land, the circular economy could indeed offer real solutions.

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文・謝宜婷 写真・莊坤儒 翻訳・山口 雪菜




循環型商品設計の議論は、ドイツの化学者マイケル・ブラウンガートとアメリカの建築家ウィリアム・マクダナーが打ち出した「揺りかごから揺りかごへ」(Cradle to Cradle/C2C)という概念から始まった。良い設計は自然環境と同じでゴミを生まないという考えだ。設計段階からこの思考を取り入れることで、使用後に資源として再利用できる、あるいは大自然の養分として分解できるものにする。


台湾では2012年に「揺りかごから揺りかごへ戦略連盟」が発足。政府の環境保護署とEPEA Taiwanが、連盟に加盟する企業にC2Cの概念を普及させ、産業界の計画を推進することとなった。









REnato lab:循環経済実験室

循環経済の概念が注目されるようになり、ビジネスモデル確立に協力する企業も生まれている。REnato labは2014年設立の環境コンサルティング会社だ。reとnatoはイタリア語でそれぞれ再生と誕生を意味し、同社は無用とされる廃棄物に価値を見出そうとしている。


REnato labは当初、廃タイヤから椅子を作るなど、廃棄物の再利用を推進していたが、その後、廃棄物の量の多さを目の当たりにする。「台湾で回収されたガラスをグラスに再生すると、年間一人76個分になるのです」と言う。そこで、川下の廃棄物を利用するより、川上から廃棄物の量を減らすことに重点を移し、コンサルティングに転換した。

REnato labは、企業単位で廃棄物を出す要因を洗い出すだけでなく、複数の企業を結び付けて廃棄物の処理から原料生産、商品生産、販売まで、さまざまな部門と協力している。こうすることで、ようやく循環型デザインを確立することができるからだ。さらに製品だけでなく、ビジネスモデルの調整においてもサービスを提供する。例えばAcerに協力し、全国のコンビニにバッテリーの回収ポイントを設けた。

REnato labはコンサルティング会社に転身した後も製品デザインを続けており、原材料ライブラリを設けて、デザイナーが材料の性質を掌握してふさわしいものを選べるようにしている。彼らの実験室は一般の工場と同じだと王家祥は言う。彼はREnato labを「循環経済の実験室」と位置付け、顧客の材料から製品を試作し、顧客が受け入れれば翌日から生産できるようにしている。赤字になることもあるが、効果があるなら実践するべきだと考えているのだ。

REnato labの影響力は企業だけでなく消費者にも及んでいる。王家祥は循環型経済におけるそれぞれの役割の関係を自動車に喩えて説明する。政策と技術は車のスターター、企業と消費者は歯車のようなものだ。エンジンが起動してから前進するには歯車がなければならないのである。2019年、REnato labは華山文創園区でFuture is nowという展覧会を開催した。さまざまな状況において、どのような資源とルートを活用すれば循環型の暮らしを実践できるかを考えさせるものだった。一般の人々が循環型デザインに対して持つ、美しくない、耐用性がないというイメージを打破するのが目的である。










文‧謝宜婷 圖‧莊坤儒





國際上對循環經濟產品設計的討論,始於德國化學教授麥克布朗嘉(Michael Braungart)與美國建築師威廉麥唐諾(William McDonough)提出的「從搖籃到搖籃」(Cradle to Cradle,即C2C)設計原則,認為「好的設計就像大自然,沒有浪費這回事!」產品在設計前端就應該開始思考,最後該如何回到源頭再利用或直接在大自然分解成為養分。

麥克布朗嘉於1987年以C2C的理念在德國創辦了公司EPEA(Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency),之後還在荷蘭、瑞士、土耳其、巴西成立了分公司,而台灣也在2010年成為EPEA在亞洲的第一個據點。

  2012年,「台灣搖籃到搖籃策略聯盟」成立,就是由環保署與EPEA 台灣分公司推動,目的要幫助聯盟業者了解C2C的概念,並合作推動產業的C2C實行計畫。




Redefine, Redesign:需求引導設計

「廢棄物資源化只是循環經濟的開始。」循環台灣基金會董事長黃育徵堅定地說,以前講3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle(減量、再利用、回收),但現在要想2Rs: Redefine, Redesign(重新定義、重新設計)。







REnato lab:循環經濟實驗室

循環經濟的觀念興起,協助企業採用循環經濟的公司也應運而生。REnato lab在2014年成立,是一間環保顧問公司,取名re加上nato(義大利文),分別代表重生與誕生,象徵公司透過循環經濟的方法,讓所有看似無用的廢棄物再次產生價值。


REnato lab前期,主要在將廢棄物做成產品,例如將輪胎做成椅子,但後來王家祥發現廢棄物的量實在太多,「台灣一年玻璃的回收量,如果拿來做杯子,每個人可以得到76個!」與其在後端做成其他產品,不如幫助企業在前端就找出問題,減少廢棄物產出,於是後來轉型為顧問公司。

除了協助單一企業盤點,找出產生廢棄物的主要原因,REnato lab也連結不同企業,從廢棄物處理、製成原料、做成產品到銷售,不同單位串聯起來,才能完成一個循環設計的產品。除了產品之外,循環經濟商業模式的調整也是他們的服務之一,像是協助宏碁(Acer)電腦在全台7-11門市建立舊電池蒐集點,方便消費者回收。

轉型為顧問公司的REnato lab還是保有產品設計的工作,甚至建立了一套材料庫,讓設計師可以清楚掌握材料性質,做出適合的產品。「我們的實驗室,就在別人的工廠。」王家祥說,他把REnato lab定位為「循環經濟的實驗室」,會嘗試用客戶的材料做產品,做出來之後,如果客戶也接受,隔天就可以直接進生產線。爽快的口氣中,聽得出他對循環設計的熱情。過去有幾次,REnato lab因為案件成果規模做得比當初跟客戶約定的大,成本幾乎花光,「最後自己做得很高興,但結果沒賺錢。」就算有時候會賠錢,為什麼還堅持呢?王家祥微笑著說:「解決事情的效益,比賺錢還大,這樣想就比較好過了。」

REnato lab想影響的不只有企業,還有民眾。王家祥談起循環經濟中每個角色的關係,用車子作了一個生動的比喻:「政策跟技術就像車子的啟動器,企業與民眾就像是齒輪。車子要發動,靠的是啟動器,但是要繼續前進,靠的就是不同齒輪的配合了。」用理解取代說教,是王家祥的信念,而這也反映在REnato lab的策展中,去(2019)年在華山文創的展覽──Future is now,讓民眾在不同情境去發現可以透過哪些資源與管道,實行循環經濟的生活;並透過體驗破除大眾對循環設計產品的迷思:不美觀、不耐用。








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