Around the world, landfills are growing by some 3.5 million tonnes of garbage every day. In the time it’ll take you to read this article, the equivalent of two truckloads of plastic will have entered the oceans. Considering that waste is not an accident, that’s a lot of bad design.
We need to face this problem head-on, which is why What Design Can Do launched the global No Waste Challenge earlier this year, inviting innovators everywhere to radically redesign our relationship with waste. Seven creative thought-leaders reflect on where our industry went wrong, and what we can do to fix it. These conversations — featuring Alice Rawsthorn, Bruce Mau, Fernando Laposse, Fred Gelli, Nelly Ben Hayoun, Selly Raby Kane and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto — will take centre stage in a new video campaign, launching today.
“We’re behaving like it’s an endless party”
Every designer we talked to was clear on one thing: to solve an issue like waste, we first have to take a long hard look at the mirror. By making things both desirable and disposable, designers have contributed towards an endless cycle of consumerism. The issue is structural, and if you’ve ever pitched a product or sold a campaign, then chances are, you’re a part of this system. “I’ve designed trash – we’ve all designed trash,” admits the visionary Bruce Mau.
It wasn’t always this way, he reminds us. “Early design was actually long term. We used to build things that last. Then we introduced short-term design, planned obsolescence—that things would break and fall apart. We actually designed it that way. We’re behaving like there’s an endless party, but we’re passing the check to our children.” Fernando Laposse doubles down on how ingrained our throwaway culture has become: “When I was in university, I was taught to design objects that didn’t have a lifespan of more than 3 or 4 years.” In an effort to minimize his impact, the self-professed material designer and craftsman now works chiefly with natural, biodegradable materials like crop waste.
For fashion designer Selly Raby Kane, the breakneck speed of her industry had become unsustainable in more ways than one. Two years ago she made the decision to scale down her eponymous clothing label, frustrated by the “senseless” expectations of the market. “The thirst for newness has a high cost: in human resources, in natural resources, in energy. It costs a lot,” she explains. “For me, good design is design that will be a testimony of a time – a piece of documentation that creates a community around it, and that doesn’t cost us that much.”
Calling for ‘good’ design
Fortunately, there is a growing number of creatives who, like Selly, are making a change and taking an active role in the transition to a more circular future. As a community and an industry, we need to throw our weight behind these ideas, whether they are small hacks (like finding new ways to repair old items) or big dreams (like inventing an entirely new economy). And despite everything—there are reasons to be optimistic. “Designers don’t know much – and this is good,” smiles Brazilian powerhouse Fred Gelli. “Because when you don’t have to be an expert in something, we can ask the questions that children usually do. And this opens up space for innovation.” On this, our director Richard van der Laken agrees. “I think the biggest thing design can bring to the table is imagination,” he argues. “We as creatives can imagine a new world, and that is a power we can never underestimate.”
The No Waste Challenge is open for submissions until 21 April 2021, after which the winning teams will be awarded with funding and support to make their ideas a reality.