Creators waste their waste
We are addicted to the production of waste; like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have conjured a system that has grown out of our control. We seem helpless or unwilling to stop buying and then throwing away household items, clothing and electronics, leaving them and their packaging to pile up in landfills and oceans.
According to a 2018 World Bank report, humans produce more than 2 billion tonnes of municipal waste per year. If this is not controlled, it should reach 3.4 billion by 2050. The costs of plastic bags and various recovery programs have little impact on this projection.
A new exhibition at the Design Museum in London – titled The era of waste: what can design do? – argues that those who partially enabled our uncontrollable drinking and disposal habits can also show us the way beyond them.
“Waste is where design can make the biggest change,” says chief curator Justin McGuirk, “because design is so involved in generating waste. “
The show begins by highlighting how much our throwaway culture has recently developed. The ideas of planned obsolescence and disposable were promoted to spur economic growth in the United States in the 1950s, aided by the invention of petroleum-based plastics such as nylon, PVC, and polyurethane over the years. previous decades. In those early years, consumers raised in a more frugal era had to be persuaded to throw away cups, pens and razors.
But it only took a few generations for waste to become second nature in rich countries. The annual production of plastic in the world has increased from just 2 million tonnes in 1950 to 368 million tonnes in 2019. Today, the United Nations Environment Program estimates that 50% of plastic products (including packaging) are intended for one-time use.
The exhibit argues that waste has grown from a byproduct of our cravings for novelty and easy living to what McGuirk describes as “the defining material of our time.” The show’s directing section is called Peak Waste, reflecting an optimistic belief that the trend can be turned around, so that the past 70 years will one day be remembered as a brief twist; “A coup in the history of mankind,” as McGuirk puts it.
One way to turn the tide, explored in the second part of the exhibit, is to reclaim more of the material we got rid of. A chair designed by Snøhetta for Nordic Comfort Products is on display, made from disused fishing nets.
A more structural example is the K-Briq, a building block made up of 90% crushed construction waste, old stones, concrete and plasterboard, without the energy-intensive firing required to make terracotta bricks and with better insulation qualities. K-Briqs are made at the source in a Scottish recycling center.
But recycling is not enough; it is estimated that only 19% of the world’s municipal waste is recycled or composted. “Recycling is also a very practical story for the plastics industry,” says McGuirk, “because it makes people think everything is fine when in reality what we need to do is remove so much plastic. as much as possible of our products and supply chains. “
Instead, the Conservatives argue in the latter part of Waste age, we need to craft items that last longer and are easier to repair or cannibalize when they eventually fail. For longevity, they offer the Optimist Toaster, constructed from cast aluminum with minimal moving parts and designed to last for generations. The Modular Framework Laptop and Fairphone mobile phone have parts that can be replaced when they need maintenance or upgrade.
Another way to reduce inert waste that has been in the ground or in the sea for hundreds of years is to make objects from organic and biodegradable alternatives. London-based Fernando Laposse created shiny yellow and purple marquetry panels from corn husks and a set of shaggy-haired banquettes named “The Dogs”. It has a wooden frame covered with sisal, the dried fiber of the fleshy leaves of agave.
“It’s renewable, it grows faster than wood, it grows in the most inhospitable places, it has positive impacts,” he says. The cultivation of corn and agave and the making of objects generate a healthy income for the villagers of the native Mexico of Laposse.
Waste age Also features a fluted column in the shape of a tree trunk that has been 3D printed using pulp from coffee cups collected from cafes and offices in West London. Paola Garnousset, of Blast Studio, says the material is strong enough to be load-bearing. “Our goal is to build an architecture entirely made with waste collected locally,” says Garnousset. The paper substrate of the column is enriched to allow it to develop a fast growing mycelium fungus skin, which has qualities such as sound insulation and fire resistance.
McGuirk says such experiments are examples of designers broadening their mandate to indicate more responsible production and disposal patterns. He mentions the Italian duo Formafantasma, whose office chairs and desks incorporating redundant computer parts were part of a year-long research project.
They also have a proposal for QR coded instructions inside electronic products indicating how they are to be dismantled and their materials recovered at the end of their useful life.
Laposse agrees: “I don’t even pretend to make a dent in the global market for corn or agave waste,” he says. “But I’m trying to say that there are production alternatives and a way of telling stories to make the consumer think: what am I buying? How is it produced?
“The show has a critical mass of approaches and ideas for rethinking this problem; that’s what makes me optimistic, ”says McGuirk. “I want people to leave the show thinking that we are in the process of change, that alternatives emerge. There is a future in the making that is different from our present.
“The age of waste: what can design do? “; Design Museum, London, from October 23; designmuseum.org