Early on a sunlit mid-September morning, on the banks of The Grand Union Canal in London, 25 designers, writers and academics from London Design Festival’s Greengaged hub, took residence on the Beauchamp ‘Electric Barge’ to take a trip to Powerday waste recycling plant in west London. Docked at Little Venice in Paddington, the Beauchamp is a silently-running and environmentally-sound answer to canal travel. Inhabitat writer Kate Andrews was on the trip and shares her insights from the experience.
After skipper Ian ironically removed the plastic bags tied up around the boat’s rudder, Anne Chick, Director if Kingston University’s Sustainable Design Research Centre, Sophie Thomas, co-founder of communication design agency thomas.matthews and Sarah Johnson founder of [re]design, led the day’s events and introduced the day’s speaker, Rob Holdway, Founder of Giraffe Innovation and Presenter of Channel 4’s “Dumped” television series.
Designers And Waste
Rob took the opportunity to introduce his work, share his knowledge of the environmental crisis and emphasize the important role that designers have to influence change in our overly wasteful society. Rob described his ‘Dumped’ experiment which, earlier this year, took 11 unsuspecting eco-volunteers to an East Croydon landfill and challenged them to survive off other people’s waste. However, it is clear “a trip to the Amazon isn’t necessary to see the real effects of Climate Change,” Rob expressed.
The need to design with waste in mind was paramount to Rob’s discussion. Designers can be very good at producing waste, but bad at using it, he explained. Rob expressed his thoughts on the role that education has to teach designers to put their work in the context of our contemporary society. He emphasized the responsibility of individual designers to be more aware of what clients and their briefs are asking of us. In a consumer culture, the ephemeral quality of design needs to be transformed and celebrated, by designing consumer products from biodegradable materials, he expressed.
Explaining that 80% of UK waste derives from businesses, Rob noted that focusing on merely household waste is not nearly enough. The UK is the 3rd worst country in Europe at recycling and he questioned why there are 55 different collection methods in the country.
In the second part of the trip, our group arrived at Powerday waste recycling center. The 10-acre site, which opened in May 2007, took 12 years of planning and £12m of investment. Located at Old Oak Sidings in London, the facility sits near a transport hub of road, rail and canal links, making it the only site in London with such extensive access in and out of the plant. As well as a state-of-the-art recycling facility, the site also includes a waste transfer station, an aggregate and sand handling facility, a plant-hire depot and a training center.
Capable of recycling 1.6 million tons of construction waste a year, Powerday is currently recycling 95% of all of the waste it receives. They recover and recycle 70% of the waste into new uses; 25% is used in landfills for restoration and only 5% goes straight to a landfill. John explained that the 5% currently going to landfills is recyclable, however Powerday has yet to find a suitable market for resale- and that Powerday ultimately aims to recover 100% of the waste it receives.
An Interesting Point of View
What is the role of designers in this, you wonder? Designers are crucial to the reduction and disposal of waste materials, they explained. The Powerday plant therefore welcomes students and professionals to book a tour, and event organizers, such as Greengaged, encourage all designers to take at least one trip to such a place. It was such an insightful trip for all who attended. Did you know, that there is only a mere 3 years left of landfill space in London!?
On the barge trip back to Paddington, Greengaged organizer Sophie Thomas, Co-Founder of UK sustainable communication design agency thomas.matthews and non-profit enterprise Three Trees Don’t Make A Forest, took the opportunity to speak to some of the attendees. “It was interesting to see the other side to recycling, which you just don’t get to see very often,” said one Royal College of Art student.
“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, to take a barge trip to a recycling plant, and to be a part of a collective that is very determined to go green,” said a second. “With traditional design festivals there tends to just be a lot of design ‘on show’, which is interesting, however, it is important to have a different view on what is really meant by sustainable design,” said an Irish graduate designer.
Environmental design writer Petz Scholtus, from Barcelona, was on the trip and has published her thoughts on Treehugger.com. There are also photographs of the canal boat trip and the visit to Powerday on Flickr.
Copyright images courtesy of Greengaged 2008.
Did you know that recycling a single ton of paper can save 7000 gallons of water, 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space and 4000 kilowatts of energy!? Statistics like these were key points at a sustainable print and paper workshop at the London Design Festival’s sustainability hub, Greengaged. The workshop, hosted by UK-based nonprofit enterprise Three Trees Don’t Make a Forest, set out to explore how different print processes affect the paper’s recyclability, and how you can reduce the impact through the design process.
The Three Trees, Sophie Thomas (thomas.matthews), Nat Hunter (Airside) and Caroline Clark (Lovely as a Tree) were joined by top sustainable print gurus and business leaders Richard Owers from Beacon Press, Sion Whellens from Calverts Co-op and the immensely knowledgeable Jan Kuiper from Paperback, the recycled paper suppliers.
Sophie began the workshop with a discussion about the need for designer participation. She explained the need for designers to consider their ‘Sphere of Influence’ – to be aware of the wider impacts of their work: where the materials will comes from, the life-cycle of the piece, where it will end up, and how many people it will reach. When you receive a brief, she explained, question whether the solution really is a piece of print. Sophie elaborated with an anecdote: when Friends of the Earth approached her company, thomas.matthews, and asked them to design posters for ‘No Shop Day’, they re-thought the original print brief, and instead created the incredible No Shop store. The result was vastly more innovative, environmentally-sound and had a much greater impact for the client.
“If you have to, or you do decide that print is the best option,” she continued, “then it is time to approach your paper supplier and find out all you need to know about the selection on offer.” With that, Sophie introduced Jan Kuiper of Paperback.
In 1983 Kuiper, an ex-environmentalist turned paper distributer, set up Paperback, the first FSC-certified merchant, with an objective to close the paper-recycling loop. Kuiper discussed the environmental impacts of paper stating that “Deforestation is responsible for three-fourths of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, making the country the fourth largest climate polluter in the world.” Continuing his presentation, Kuiper explained paper eco-labeling, the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) and the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Council). He described the five-stage process to make paper, demonstrating that the pulp and paper process uses enormous amounts of energy and resources:
2. Pulp manufacture
3. Paper making
4. Finishing (cutting, coating..)
5. Design and print
After a cup of tea and a look through the paper samples, Richard Owers of Beacon Press took to the stand and underlined the impact of paper selection, explaining that the carbon footprint of a printed piece of work is 60-70% related to the paper. He recognized designers’ negative perception of recycled paper (“helping to save the environment means using recycled paper that is ‘ugly and of bad quality'”) and reassured skeptics: “You really do not need to compromise on cost or quality to save the environment.”
Sophie concluded the workshop commenting, “I can imagine that designers think ‘oh god, there’s nothing left but to have a piece of blank recycled paper, with a single fold and no ink; where’s the fun gone!?’ Well, for me, that’s the challenge – what can I do with what I’ve got?”
You can also see more photographs from the workshop here.