Echos from What Design Can Do – What Can Design Can Actually Do about Plastic?

In collaboration with VBAT, WASTED hosted a breakout session at the 2017 ‘What Design Can Do’ annual conference, held on the 24th May. n the session, we asked participants these questions; to rethink their perceptions of plastic.

We’ve all been there; open the fridge to grab some milk for your coffee, only to realise the carton is empty. Annoyance aside, what do you see when you look at that empty plastic container? Is it useless – just waste? Or is it much more than that? Can it become useful again? Sadly, for many people, it is nothing more than the former – food that ultimately will end at the trashcan. Yet, the plastic’s story does not end here; often finding its way into our rivers and oceans, causing devastating global environmental impacts.

©UNEP, Cristophe Launay/Race for Water 2015

©UNEP, Cristophe Launay/Race for Water 2015

In collaboration with VBAT, WASTED hosted a breakout session at the 2017 ‘What Design Can Do’ annual conference, held on the 24th May at the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ. In the session, we asked participants these questions; to rethink their perceptions of plastic.

©CITIES Foundation

©CITIES Foundation

We kicked of the session by sharing the ideas behind and progress that we have achieved by CITIES Foundation and the WASTED scheme operating in Amsterdam Noord. Highlighting the significance of a community-centric approach, the participants were shown the tangible possibility that recycling can yield truly win-win outcomes for everybody.

©CITIES Foundation

©CITIES Foundation

Following this, Mathias Worbin from IKEA’s core design team, shared his insights and experiences of working with plastics. He discussed the crucial role that plastics often play when designing pieces of furniture. Yet, IKEA also have set themselves ambitious sustainability targets; striving to completely cut their landfill waste to zero globally – having already achieved this feat in the UK in 2016. To achieve this, Mathias explained, requires the streamlining of the entire design process to maximise the reusability, recyclability, and ultimate circularity of products.

With these ideas and examples in the fore-front of their thoughts, the groups of participants were provided with a container of unsorted everyday plastic waste – don’t worry, it was cleaned first(!) – with the task of separating the bottles, bags, and cartons into key plastic types. Following a simple flow map, the groups had to cut, tear and submerge the plastics in water and oil to identify their properties, and work out which of the six main plastic groups they fit into; PVC, HDPE, PP, LDPE, PET, PS. With each type of plastic that was identified, the groups learned about its main uses as well as its ‘recyclability’ and missed opportunities.

@CITIES Foundation

@CITIES Foundation

After using their hands to separate this ‘waste’, the participants then had to use their brains to think of how to give their assigned plastic a new life. Specifically, following WASTED’s ideology of community centric action, each group had to come up with ways in which these materials could be used as a solution to a problem that existed in their neighbourhood. Showing their creativity and ingenuity, each team imagined truly innovative and abstract ideas; from using plastic sound reflectors for walls to reduce noise pollution, to reusable, refillable and stackable plastic food containers, to even a high-speed cycle path to avoid the horses of slow riding Amsterdam tourists.

@CITIES Foundation

@CITIES Foundation

Constrained significantly by time, yet producing truly imaginative and impactful ideas gives hope to the battle against plastic waste. Armed with this enhanced knowledge and appreciation for the types of plastic, the designers of the future can hopefully look at their ‘waste’ with different eyes; to see the potential impact – both positive and negative – of each bottle top and bin bag. After all; there is no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place.

Created on 29 June 2017

Related research themes

Research into branding of eco-cities and their implementation
Read more

Related research themes

Research about age-inclusive cities in the face of demographic transitions.
Read more

Related research themes

Research about age-inclusive cities in the face of demographic transitions.
Read more
Research into urban waste management
Read more

Related research themes

Research into urban waste management
Read more

Related research themes

Research about age-inclusive cities in the face of demographic transitions.
Read more

Related research themes

Research into urban waste management
Read more
© 2019 CITIES.
All rights reserved.
Make a donation to CITIES