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Circular economy 3D printing Audio Loudspeaker Recycling Speakers Sustainability

Circular Sound – Disrupting the industry with 100% recycled loudspeakers

Introduction

The loudspeaker industry, like all other industries, needs to transform into a circular economy model. Why? because only 8.6% of the materials we use circulate back into the economy, according to the Circularity Gap Report 2021. We need to increase this number in order to reach the Sustainability Development Goal 12.5 set by the United Nations:

By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse.

United Nations Sustainability Development Goal SDG 12.5

Circular Economy of Loudspeakers

Some loudspeaker manufacturers use recycled or renewable enclosure materials, but the biggest problem is circulating the electronics and loudspeaker drivers back into the economy. There is an abundance of old loudspeakers being discarded or sold very cheap every year, because demand for old models has diminished. Buying new loudspeakers made from virgin materials is not sustainable, especially due to the rare-earth elements (REE) used in loudspeaker magnets.

Rare earth elements (REEs) are essential for manufacturing permanent magnets. Permanent magnets are critical components in most decarbonisation technologies.

European Union EIT Raw Materials

The European Union is dependent on imported magnets and REEs. A circular economy model would not only be good for the environment, but also for the reliability of supply chains.

Additive manufacturing enables circular economy

Additive manufacturing offers many opportunities for a circular economy, where repair and remanufacturing are some of the best options to reduce the consumption of mass-produced products made in far-away lands. Circular economy can be described by the 6 REs:

  1. REduce – Don’t buy anything
  2. REuse – Buy second-hand
  3. REpair – Fix it, if it’s broken
  4. REmanufacture – Make something new using old components
  5. REcycle – Cycle the raw material back into the economy
  6. REcover – Burn for energy

As far as loudspeakers are concerned, the best option is of course not to buy anything. The second and third best options are to buy used loudspeakers or fix broken loudspeakers. These two options, however, do not consider the fact that the user may want something different compared to their current product or what is available second-hand. In other words, it does not help if a product can be used forever if nobody wants it anymore. Circular Sound tackles this issue by relying on remanufacturing with the help of 3D printing. In this context, remanufacturing means using the drivers and electronics from old loudspeakers and 3D printing a new enclosure. Obviously, the material of the new enclosure needs to be sustainable, too. Recycled and bio-based plastics are promising, but require special design considerations to obtain the necessary acoustic properties from the enclosure.

RD Physics CS-012 proof-of-concept prototype

The RD Physics CS-012 is the first loudspeaker design in the Circular Sound line-up. The donor components come from an old Yamaha YST-SW012 bass-reflex subwoofer. Additive manufacturing was used to produce a smaller, sealed enclosure loudspeaker. The material used in the prototype is a bio-based material produced by BrightPlus. It has a natural dye made from woad by Natural Indigo Finland. The original Yamaha loudspeaker is designed to be used as a single subwoofer unit placed somewhere on the floor out of sight. The new product, on the other hand, is designed to be used in stereo configuration (2 pcs) and placed under the main speakers. It serves a different function compared to the original product, but no new materials need to be consumed. We are not injecting a new product made from virgin materials into the economy. Instead, we are taking two old ones out and replacing them with one value-added product. This is what Circular Sound is about. You don’t have to wait for distributors to bring sustainable products to your local market. You can start making these today. The files are shared for free under a Creative Commons license on Thingiverse.