It is often reported that those in the West are exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 adverts each day. These adverts, whether we notice them or not, will mostly be for stuff. Cars. Electrical gadgets. Fashion. Food. Stuff that we are being told we need to own – and that we need to consume. And of course, just like as Uncle Ben says to Peter Parker in the 2002 Spider-Man movie, we know that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. We all may be the ‘consumers’, but designers themselves bear the great responsibility of how this ‘stuff’ is created – and also what it is created from.
Of course, the first thing any material needs to be is fit for purpose – but once we are beyond that simple hurdle, we have big decisions to make. What material we are going to use, what is our supply chain and what does our target market want… however, far too often it is business as usual and we end up with the same stuff being made from the same materials – often virgin, synthetic and man-made.
So. We have too much stuff and we make the stuff from virgin materials. We consume it, then throw it to the magic place of ‘away’ – landfill or incineration. Thoughts to second-life uses are slim or non-existent and we merrily make more items every day to be shunted along the conveyor belt of consumerism. But what if there was a different way to make things?
The transition to a more circular economy – an economy that is regenerative by design – poses foundational questions for designers. End-of-life uses for any product should be planned in at the design stage, how we recover the materials and of course, how we can keep the materials as pure as possible so we can reprocess them at the highest value. Waste is not waste until you waste it. And why make more stuff from new materials when you could make them from a material that already exists…
Identifying an untapped waste stream is often the way new products are created in this sector – like Freitag bags, made from old truck tarps (which are hardwearing and waterproof, just like a bag needs to be) and there are thousands of sources of waste that currently pose problems for one sector but could be used in another. It is about connecting the dots between the end-of-life and the beginning-of-life – a truly circular economy.
Over the last decade of marine litter research and redesign in our studio, we have utilised waste fishing gear in a multitude of ways in our own designs – both reprocessed for decorative and structural uses in furniture and lighting and most recently, remanufactured – creating a process which involves injection moulding waste trawl netting into new products that look like jade… A waste material that can be made to look like a semi-precious stone? That’s real value from waste.
So designers – do not take the usual route with materials. Use your great power and think about what else you could use that might have had a previous life. And hey, it’s probably got a great story attached to it and we love stories as much as we love stuff. Just make sure you tell the good stories.
Claire Potter is a sustainable designer from Brighton and founder of Claire Potter Designs
It’s time the design industry rethinks its approach to materials, says designer Claire Potter, and sustainability truly needs to take centre stage