Product life cycle

Home learning focus

Learn the basics of product life cycles.

This lesson includes:

  • two video clips demonstrating environmental design

  • two activities to try at home


When designing a product, it is important to consider the environmental impact of the product's production and distribution processes.

Environmental design is something designers are increasingly considering by:

  • making products from renewable materials, such as paper straws instead of plastic
  • making products from recyclable or biodegradable materials, so they can be disposed of correctly
  • utilising computer aided design (CAD) nesting software to reduce waste material
  • transporting materials in a more efficient way or supplying on a more local level to cut down on emissions of greenhouse gases
  • cutting down the use of finite resources and using renewable energy in production to improve the overall environmental impact of a product

Planned obsolescence is the practice of designing products that will have a limited life.

They will become obsolete and need to be replaced, for example, disposable razors.

Modern mobile phones are a good example as they need continual software upgrades and are soon replaced by new better-performing models.

Planned obsolescence is generally bad for the environment as it creates more waste.

In the following short film, Jenny discusses how best to use energy and materials responsibly when designing.

Using energy and materials responsibly when designing.

Life cycle analysis (LCA) is the study of the environmental effects a product has from its production to its disposal, including:

  • raw materials
  • manufacturing processes
  • transportation
  • disposal

There are two different product life cycles:

  • Linear - Ending with disposal, adding waste to landfill
  • Circular - Continuous and incorporating recycling to ensure that materials and products are used over and over again
Circular product life cycle of make, use and recycle.

Circular product life cycle

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The 6 Rs can be applied to the design of new products or when a product is finished with, used up or no longer wanted:

  • Repair - Can the product be fixed instead of throwing it away into landfill? Repairing a washing machine can cost a lot less than buying a new one.
  • Reuse - Can the product be passed on or its life extended by using it repeatedly? Reusable carrier bags from the supermarket are a good example.
  • Recycle - Can materials such as metal, plastic and glass be collected and converted? Plastic bottles can be shredded into pellets to make new plastic bottles.
  • Rethink - Can the design be remade using a different material? Using a quick-growing, renewable material such as cotton or bamboo would be better than a non-renewable plastic-based fabric such as polyester.
  • Reduce - Are there products that last longer or can be recharged? Can the miles the product has to travel be cut? Or could rechargeable batteries or locally-sourced products be used?
  • Refuse - Thinking twice before buying a product with wasteful packaging or a large carbon footprint.

In the following short film, Eilidh talks through the 6 Rs in action.

Environmental design and the 6 Rs.


Now you can try and put some of what you have learned about product life cycles and environmental design into action.

Activity 1

Choose three products from your house or school - a mobile phone, a table, a microwave, they could be anything - and run an analysis of the 6 Rs on them:

  • Are there ways that you can reduce its environmental impact?
  • Do you have any creative ideas for upcycling the product?

See if you can identify any trends in products that have a lower environmental impact:

  • Do they use the same material?
  • Are they produced locally?

Activity 2

Form a plan for your school or home to reduce its environmental impact.

This could range from reducing waste to changing energy sources.

Get creative!

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

More lessons for Year 7 and S1
Secondary Design and Technology
BBC Teach Design and Technology