A Story of separation: Exploring systems of household waste, looking for opportunities for regenerative change.
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Humanity is creating more products than ever. Global recycling systems are struggling. We need to transition to a circular economy. This is a collaborative exploration of waste management in Oslo. We worked closely with Renovasjonsetaten and Grønt Punkt Norge, to gather expert opinions and insights into existing systems and the problems and challenges that they face. Both actors were interested in utilizing behavioural design methods to ‘nudge’ users changing user behaviour to improve the amount of materials getting properly sorted for recycling within the existing systems. We decided to challenge that focus as we found that people were surprisingly content in their role as waste sorters. Most people understood the need and were happy to contribute, but often got confused, frustrated and demotivated when the failings of the system were exposed. We built our understanding of the system holistically. Through conversations with experts we explored the limitations of the system. Through in-depth interviews with users we were able to map out the home waste system and peoples experiences. Through surveys with different user groups, we explored people’s feelings about their role in the system. Through workshops with school pupils, we gauged the understanding and feelings of future users. Connecting these perspectives we were able to look for high impact leverage points to steer the system in a more desired direction. Modern consumer culture is intrinsically linked with waste. Packaging is the most visible fraction in most people’s lives and one that every society is struggling to deal with. The consequences of struggling systems have entered the public consciousness with media coverage of polluted natural ecosystems and ocean contamination raising awareness of humanity’s disconnect from nature. We decided to focus looselyon plastic packaging waste as this is the fraction that is increasingly causing issues worldwide. ”How can we utilise people’s experiences with household waste to increase the percentage of material that returns to a circular material system?” Waste management is the biggest industry on the planet. Many developed countries have hightech recycling facilities that deal with waste, but developing countries struggle to invest in expensive solutions we looked for tractable solutions that didn’t rely on expensive investments. Looking at the material flow as a linear journey we saw a list of hurdles that need to be overcome to allow the system to feedback on itself, the system is far from circular. Products are not being designed to be recycled or sorted for recycling. There is little incentive for producers to design products to fit the existing waste management systems, and consumers have little power to impact the system. Incorrect sorting behaviour can damage the effectiveness of the system and is bound to occur when products are poorly designed for sorting or recycling. If products are well designed for a circular economy it might happen that the recycling system is unable to process them correctly and that effort is wasted. We explored a variety of concepts and came up against many limitations that REG and Grønt Punkt were not in a position to deal with, so we looked for ways to improve the situation externally. We chose to explore a concept that utilises people’s altruistic engagement, empowering them to positively impact the systems that generate and manage the waste that they are forced to deal with. We developed a service to unite people, industry leaders and politicians with the goal of creating better and more ecologically designed products. Our aim is to encourage the creation of circular material systems that are sustainable in the longterm and increasingly go beyond the goal of sustainability (the bare minimum required) and towards regenerative systems that positively impact the environment. We propose a platform where people and experts can rate the products they use based on experiences, and shared existing knowledge. An opportunity for highly engaged individuals to push for change and utilize their energy and motivation to impact the system for everyone. The platform rates products with different metrics of evaluation producing an overall score for a product which agglomerates to create a score for its brand, parent company and the stores that it can be bought from. The aim is to encourage the sustainable and regenerative design of products that fit the needs and desires of users as well as the existing waste management system. Designers and producers can showcase innovations, improvements and share insight. Waste management systems can share information about how they process different materials and show which materials are recycled where
Master i produktdesign