The New Year has brought relief from the high water levels witnessed in the river Taff over the Christmas period, only to reveal a reminder of a not so festive kind of tree decoration. The litter which is festooned on the vegetation along the riverbank illustrates the usually hidden cargo making up the recent ‘storm water soup’. The quantity of flexible plastic packaging which offers itself to the branches, presumably only representing a fraction of the litter making its way downstream. Beyond the visual impact on the local environment, this may not seem like such a problem, until we consider the bigger picture of global degradation of the aquatic environment, with the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ bearing testimony to the scale of this accumulative environmental problem. http://www.tedxgreatpacificgarbagepatch.com/
What should/can be done? Beyond the fantastic activities of people such as the Cardiff Rivers Group who undertake regular clear-up events http://cardiffriversgroup.blogspot.co.uk/ there are some seemingly obvious approaches to providing remedial interventions:
- Source control – reduce the quantities of litter being made available within the water catchment area.
- Flow control – prevent this ‘available’ litter from entering the watercourse.
- Transmission control – removal of litter from the river (use floating litter traps, storm water traps).
A post by Andrew Cunningham, ecodesign research intern at Ecodesign Centre
As a Product design student I developed a strong interest in sustainable design and joining the Ecodesign Centre team was the opportunity to expand on my area of interest beyond ‘making things out of cardboard’ and understand what sustainability means in a professional world. I met with Frank the morning of my arrival to discuss areas of interest around design for the circular economy. We quickly decided that it would be good to investigate the life cycle of the disposable ball point pen, and the surrounding sustainable issues and possible opportunities to improve them, hopefully raise some interesting points along the way. My preconceived ideas on the investigation were that the ballpoint pens (the Biro) are clearly an unsustainable product and my goals were to find out how unsustainable, and what could be done to make it sustainable. During my time here however it became clear that in the world of sustainable design there is no simple black and white, and solutions are not straightforward. To gain a real understanding I had to analyse the life cycle in more detail. Luckily for me there is a wealth of knowledge on BIC® the company that revolutionised the biro and in particular their Cristal ballpoint pen (it’s got its own Wikipedia page). It made for some interesting reading as according to Wikipedia, up to 2004, 100 billion Cristal ball point pens had been manufactured, and as BIC® themselves admit their ’products are generally not designed to be recycled’, as the singular product is not significant enough in weight and volume to be considered recyclable (Societe BIC, 2005). It begs the question ‘where are they all now?’ To put that into context, if you were able to collect and stand each pen end on end, there would be enough to reach the moon and back 20 times and would weigh approximately 590,000 tonnes.
Anyone who has cross-threaded a bolt whilst attempting to forcibly pair Imperial and Metric threads, would find themselves, rather like a child attempting to drive a square peg through the proverbial round hole frustrated as to why such intrinsically similar things are so incompatible?
Within the lighting industry there has been a long-standing president for a less multifarious relationship between key components. The interchangeable lamp (bulb) to light fitting (luminaire) relationship was established thanks in some way to common sense standardisation; with the Edison screw in Europe and Bayonet fitting in the UK. The obvious requirement to replace the lamp without having to scrap the entire light fitting has its basis in the relatively ‘short-lived’ existence of the ‘light source’; candles, wicks and more recently the incandescent bulb have all played their part in defining the nature of this relationship.
The inevitable emergence of LEDs as the ‘light source of choice’, due to their energy efficiency has challenged this relationship. Given the service life promises of 50,000 hours for LEDs, the need for a standardised approach to interconnectivity would appear to have been sidestepped. The proliferation of luminaire embedded LEDs (conjoined) bears testament to this, with the impact on premature product obsolescence largely unquantified.
An approach to matching the environmental and economic attributes of sustainability, described as the ‘circular economy’, sounds a simple enough shape to manage. We put things (materials, products) into either technological or biological cycles or ‘loops’ and they flow around until we decide to pluck them out and reuse them. The proviso being we avoid mixing them up (co-mingle) and don’t put anything in which is nasty.
Of course the reality is these ‘loops’ are more akin to those of a rollercoaster carrying buckets of water, with centrifugal and centripetal forces doing their best to promote spillage. The key difference though is we carefully design the rollercoaster to give the impression of an insecure ‘open loop ‘experience, while providing a safe return journey; whilst with products we often seem to place little thought to the design of the journey. Perhaps this is because the lifecycle loops for most products are so numerous and include loops within loops; for example the ‘manufacturing loop’ of a plastic part may require several chemical/thermal/mechanical interventions for each of its material ingredients. The notion of a ‘fractal economy’ might be more appropriate?
We have all experienced the annoyance of failing products. We are pretty much guaranteed that everything we own will break at some point in the future. Some large things we will keep repairing for as long as possible (houses, cars etc.) mainly due to the expense of buying new ones. However, a lot of products that break on us are quickly thrown away. Whether this is due to lack of time, knowledge or skills to repair them or just because it’s easier or cheaper to replace it with a new product. But what if we started to repair?
The possibilities for ‘green technologies’ such as Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) to deliver energy/carbon saving benefits are evident.
According to DEFRA the average UK home contains approximately 25 light sources, which is not such a large number if you think about a modern kitchen having multiple down-lights. In the ‘good old days’ of the 60W incandescent bulb, the peak lighting load for this average property would have been 1500W. If we maintain a hypothetical like for like replacement with LEDs then this max load (if you are inclined to leave all the lights on) would fall to 300W (assuming a 12W LED equivalent). According to the DEFRA estimate this can be extrapolated to the 750 million lamps ‘actively in service’, meaning that by 2020 around 19.2 terawatt hours (1.92 × 1013 watt hours) will be allocated to domestic lighting in the UK (DEFRA 2009). This is not an insignificant number of zeros given the carbon intensity of coal based electricity is 915 gCO2/kWh, and a single coal fired power station such as at Aberthaw (near Cardiff) is capable of generating around 1.5 gigawatts.
Watching the salterbaxter infographics on food waste made me wonder what role packaging plays in creating all this waste. For me the infographic demonstrates that we need to redesign the whole systems in order to get rid of waste. But if we were to just look at individual components such as packaging how would they look different to the current traditional designs. I’ve pulled together some latest developments in packaging to get a better understanding of what makes packaging sustainable.
On Wednesday I attended an Insider breakfast event hosted by Douglas Friedl at the Mercure Holland House Hotel, Cardiff. The event was well organized with a particularly good turnout from Welsh industry. Structured around a panel debate, to launch Made in Wales Awards 2012, the audience had been invited to submit questions in advance. The questions covered a broad range of issues including skills, infrastructure and the wider perception of Wales as a brand. My question centred on the panel’s view of environmentally and socially responsible design within their vision of sustainable growth. Their responses to my question are summarised here.
image source: http://sugru.com/
I recently attended the INSPIRING MATTER innovative encounters between science, art and design hosted by the RCA‘s Materials for Living Hub and the Materials and Design Exchange of the MATERIALS KTN. The event brought scientists, artists, designers, anthropologists and material enthusiasts in general together to ‘facilitate dialogue’ across material related disciplines.
Materials are products. I’m not a material scientist, I am a design-researcher and I understand the difference between a good product and a bad one. This idea of a material being a product is not a new one, but there is a new level of material control or design intent that is available to us now that has not been previously. We can design materials to behave in unique and innovative ways that suit our visions and whims. We can create responsive materials, e-paper, and even, materials that appear to be invisible. It is clear that material science is undergoing some evolution. I see this from a number of perspectives . . .
Have a look at the agendas for our ‘Zero Waste by Design’ event series.
The series starts on Wednesday morning, February 29th and finishes on Thursday afternoon, March 1st at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
There are still some places available on http://zerowastebydesign.eventbrite.co.uk/
We’re looking forward to seeing everyone on the day.
This is a short article I wrote for publication in the Chartered Institute of Waste Management newsletter.
image adapted from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/framework/index.htm
Increasing the use of recycled content in products is a vital strategy to achieve the Zero Waste targets as set out by the Welsh Government. As part of my PhD research with Orangebox, we have been looking at how businesses working in furniture design and manufacturing can do this. This research has highlighted that there is confusion across the industry regarding the differences between what it means to recycle, reuse, or treat waste through energy recovery. This misunderstanding is leading to a grouping of these categories into a single overarching ‘recyclable’ label that combines all three. More often than not, the evidence shows that reuse is better than recycling, is better than energy for waste, which is better than landfilling. Companies need to be more specific about how products and materials can be treated at the product’s End of Life.
Ecodesign met the built environment on Tuesday last week (Nov 29th) in a collaborative event between the Ecodesign Centre (EDC) and Constructing Excellence in Wales (CEW). The morning’s event saw construction stakeholders gathering from across the industry. Architects, engineers, developers, builders, material and product manufacturers, and demolition all came together to discuss the issue of waste in the construction sector. EDC’s objective was to highlight the issues resulting in waste and the role of design in moving Wales ‘Towards Zero Waste’ (TZW). The morning began with introduction to the format and objectives from me, followed by Paul Jennings from CEW. Paul informed us of some of CEW’s work and a brief outline of the Construction & Demolition sector plan.
Our very own Simon O’Rafferty gave a dynamic and insightful introduction to ecodesign. He highlighted some inspiring examples of ecodesign in practice from Wales and around the world.
Below is an article I wrote back in November 2010 for publication in the second volume of Articulado’s book, which I was invited to contribute to by Sanserif Creatius. The brief was as follows:
“The idea is to ‘speak’ on paper about the profession with total freedom and with the goal of transmitting to society what our profession is really all about, or perhaps addressing some other issue of concern to you, for instance ecodesign, the creative process or your sources of inspiration.”
I dug the article out last week to explore with our intern illustrator Nathan how illustration could be used to convey some of the messages (that’s a work in progress). Its always feels strange reading something you wrote a while back, and it was the first time I included some of my haiku poetry in a publication, but funny enough, while I could update parts, I still feel comfortable with it …. The article describes how life, people and ecodesign inspire me with the title inspired by many of the amazing books explored in Tom Butler-Bowdon’s guide to ‘50 Spiritual Classics‘. In particular Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now‘. I was left intrigued by the idea of designing while in the present. Any comments very welcome.
Sharon’s opening post kick-starting this EDC Share blog (we have been playing around with a trial blog these past few months whose content, graphics etc. will be merged eventually with this one …) prompted me to go with one of my many Ecodesign Centre highlights this week, the session on skills with Lawrence Hallett. (I know Simon eventually got in first with his blog post ‘definitions and redefinitions’). The talk on skills is incidentally connected back to our intern illustrator Nathan, who Sharon introduced earlier (I am really excited about the newspaper Nathan!). I’ll explain the connection later.
Sharon’s old portfolio and CV (created on CarbonMade) highlights her perceived skills at the time. It raised the question which was my first reaction to her post: what would this skills list look like now Sharon? My guess is greatly different. Something to think about! And how difficult it is to define what anyones skills are?; how difficult is it to develop them further? Even more so when one gets actively involved with, or even embedded in, ecodesign, particularly given its many guises and to borrow Simon’s phrase ‘definitions and redefinitions’!