I never really experienced the problem of textile waste in Australia first hand until this visit to the Smith Family Facility Clothing Recycling Centre and Non-Woven Plant. It was very eye-opening to hear about the problems the organisation faces simply from common misconceptions such as clothing banks (not bins) being treated as dumping grounds or ‘all the same’ to the myth that collections are for free. It was surprising to hear the Smith’s Family’s dedication in trying to divert textile waste away from landfill, even going as far as running a loss but still producing a material called wiper.

Certainly it got me thinking to how I treat my clothes. I have to admit I am a bit hoarder, and like what CEO of the organisation Cathy Bray mentions, I am guilty of being one of those male consumers who keep wearing the same clothes until they start to have holes throughout. I suppose I have a more of a personal connection to these clothes than what I first thought- I know that at least I am not one of those people who operate under consumerism and always hunt for the latest designer fashions. Actually visiting the site had me thinking, there are more people out there who will need clothes- I was surprised that there is even a market in Africa for single shoes. Sometimes one just has to step outside the daily routine and think more of the less fortunate, at least by donating, you are helping others while reducing the waste problem.

We have to stop being ignorant and learn to change our habits. Society needs to change its emphasis on materialism and the self and aim to help the less fortunate. One thing is for sure, after this visit, my views on textile waste has changed, seeing the sheer volume of donations and material in the actual factory. I’ll have to dig through my closet one day and spare a thought for the Smith’s Family the next time I see an unusable piece of clothing.

 

Reference:

The Smith Family 2010, The Smith Family, The Smith Family, viewed 17/09/10  <http://www.thesmithfamily.com.au/site/page.cfm&gt;

I came across this interesting piece of design in a Typo store in the week- a recyclable wallet dubbed the Mighty Wallet from Dynomighty Design. Made from  Tyvek® material, the wallet is tear-proof, waterproof, lightweight and is 25% recycled.  It is made of interlocking plastic fibers in random patterns and what is most interesting is the fact that its shape adapts to the thickness of the contents in the wallet- it can stay slim if you only keep a few notes and cards or expand but still remain durable when there are more contents. Tests of durablity are shown through viral campaigns in Youtube such as the one below.

It’s good to see how well Dynomighty Design has considered the environment with this product- everything from the packaging is recyclable. It is also quite affordable and even if you don’t have access or afford it, there is no excuse as they also give a tutorial on how to make your own!

Truly they care about the environment and are willing to disregard lost revenue in sales and pass on people the knowledge of how to make your own. What is interesting is the possibility of creating a whole community thanks to this wallet as people can make their own personalised designs aside from the quirky designs already available on the store.

Mike Day’s talk about his visit of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai was very eye-opening to see the range of experiences available in an expo. Having never really visited one before, it was interesting to hear Day talk about various installations and exhibits and how these pavillions are designed to inform visitors about issues in an integrated experience.

According to Day, almost all of the actual pavillions are recycled and supports the theme of sustainability apparent in the Shanghai expo.The question of what kind of city makes life better is played with throughout the different pavillions- and is quite a vital issue to consider as Day refers to humans as “an urban species” (Day 2010). As such, there is a need for better urban designs for the future as these cities will need to accomodate society’s evolution throughout the years.

The experience is a means of public awareness regarding the issues of sustainability and thoughts about the future and it is interesting to see how the use of experience design and installations can help make issues more relevant to an audience. Echoing Pearce’s talk from last week, the message cuts through better once you put a human face into the issues and statistics which is used in one exhibit where one takes a look at the typical family in different areas in the world. There is a potential for better understanding through the use of interactive elements as well as the audience then becomes part of the experience.

In December 2008, Clear magazine first released a 100% tree free issue of their art, design and fashion magazine (and later released another tree free issue on Fall 2009). Synthetic and recyclable, the YUPO® material is also half the normal weight and is more durable than normal paper. It is also water, dust and stain resistant and lessens the strain on forests as well as the ozone layer as manufacturing does not create dangerous emissions.

Even though the issues were released as limited edition pieces, it is still a start to a sustainable future in terms of magazines and publications. The article on the Clear Magazine website states that the material can be recycled into plastic resin and has the same performance and properties of virgin plastics. While this lessens the dependence on paper, it is also another of many products around us that relies on plastics- even if it is recyclable it certainly highlights our over-dependence on plastics as highlighted by the Plastiki campaign. Nevertheless it is a step towards a greener future in the visual communication area as the magazine becomes less ephemeral and becomes a more durable product that one is encouraged to keep.

Still, it begs me to question with the appearance of the iPad and digital magazines- will there really be room for this kind of magazines? Certainly there is a charm of actually having and feeling the magazine as you read compared to an electronic screen but what is to stop people from just leaving these magazines around like normal paper magazines? Paper is also recyclable and yet it can still be a waste problem when people don’t recycle paper. Is the solution really the material, or encouraging more recycling? An electronic version of a magazine won’t have this problem as such but then again, not everyone has the same equity in terms of access to technology.

If the future of printed magazines do rely on this material, I think it would still be better for the environment as there will be less of a reliance on trees for paper. Assuming the recycled material does have the same properties of virgin plastics then at least it will be better environmentally as we will also be relying less on pumping more oil to produce plastics. I don’t think society’s reliance on plastics will decrease, but at least with the YUPO® material, we will be using less natural resources to supply the demand.

References:

Clear Magazine 2009, Clear Magazine Debuts Fall Fashion Issue at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week,
, Clear Magazine, viewed 01 Sep 2010, <http://www.clearmag.com/2009/09/03/clear-is-a-proud-supporter-of-mercedes-benz-fashion-week-clear-magazine-debuts-limited-edition-fall-fashion-issue-100-tree-free-100-recyclable-at-mercedes-benz-fashion-week-in-new-york-sept-1/#more-627&gt;

Youtube 2008, CLEAR IS THE NEW GREEN “CLEAR MAGAZINE”, Youtube, viewed 01 Sep 2010<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S-_feqkOr8&gt;

I found this talk from Randall Pearce the most interesting of the lectures so far. In this day and age, statistics about climate change are thrown around but this has led to the public now becoming immune to the issue. What was the difference from lecture from the others was the delivery, as Pierce demonstrated, is putting the statistic into context, involving the viewer to picture the future- for example, what the world will be when today’s generation becomes 80.

Certainly this technique will prove essential to me and my visual communicator peers. It would be far better to set a scene involving the audience instead of shoving impersonal statistics down to the masses. It is especially important for the more self-driven society of today as Pearce mentions that people care more about themselves than the environment (Pearce 2010).

It is also interesting how he mentions Australia as a “rich social laboratory” (Pearce 2010) on the topic of climate change- thanks to recent threat of the drought. This has led to a generally increased belief on climate change in this country than say, Canada- the experience of recent events has shaped Australians’ thoughts in making climate change more believable. There is a potential within his claim, perhaps the Australian audience will become an interesting market to assess social values regarding the issue. More importantly is the possibility of how these current trends and values may change in the future.

Pearce also provided suggestions to possible enablers to social change which include points such as good design and new technology. Interestingly, he mentions the need for globally consistent trust marks to lessen the confusion- which could be an opportunity for visual communicators to create globally recognised symbols. The need for a consistent language that could span across cultures is an interesting proposition, however there will be barriers such as cultural differences in syntax and various legislations.

In the end, it was clear that Pearce suggested for future designers to create solutions that will shape trends: whether it be changing fashion norms or shifting product trends from high volume disposables to high quality durables. However, Pearce warns that us designers can not mistake the lack of action for apathy- something that struck home as a very good point. Certainly it’s not that people don’t want to do something, perhaps they are waiting for someone else to take action, whether it be the government or the businesses. Nevertheless, it was an interesting insight as Pearce once again takes us into the minds of normal, everyday people- something that us designers can not and should not forget or ignore.

UTS has organised five speakers which show very interesting ways of looking at waste problems and interesting stances.

  • Emma Synnott puts forth the link to cities, consumption and waste. Her lecture harshly states the truth of waste problems in cities in cold, hard statistics. Perhaps the most effective comparison was looking at trends such as the consumption of mobile phones to the point where there are more phones than people in Australia.More importantly, it was interesting to hear how about how the design of cities can influence waste trends. Currently they are designed that services such as waste, water, energy and food are quite far from actual cities. From Synott’s talk, it would probably be worth looking at these cities as systems to better understand and perhaps find solutions in the problem: whether it be through structures and technologies or influencing the people in the city to change trends.
  • Dr. Damine Giurco from the Institute for Sustainable Futures UTS focused on the Industrial Ecology in the City and the idea of using waste as resources, whether it be re-using the phosphorus in urine or re-using one business’s waste products for another business’s process, which links back to the idea of systems in the first lecture.Perhaps the most important lesson from his talk was the notion of not doing just less bad, but do more good and admittedly creates more of a guilt trip since many of us know about waste issues but do nothing active about it. Even when we do in ways like reducing waste, we need to be proactive and do something more valuable and be restorative.
  • Admittedly I did not connect to Jo Kellock’s talk about textile and clothing waste the most as I do not come from a fashion background. However it was a surprise to hear about issues such as toxic substances in textile waste and the issue of how it affects the industry financially.
  • Coming from a visual communication background, I found I related to Helen Lewis’s lecture about Packaging and Sustainability the most. Coming from the Institute of Packaging Design, I found many different ways and factors that affect a package’s design such as usability, safety, efficiency and cyclic property in terms of waste production/reduction. The experiment with the biodegradable bag and research on reusable bags were also eye opening and forces you to question how real the ‘green offers’ of companies are in terms of sustainability.
  • Stephen Ormandy’s talk about his business Dinosaur Designs offers an interesting look on the value of products that are designed to be kept. In direct contrast to packaging which makes up a good portion of waste because of its ephemeral nature, Dinosaur Design’s resin jewelry pieces offer a unique niche as they only sell a limited number of a product, thus making the product more variable. Producing less leads to producing less waste and this approach would be less wasteful than the mass production (perhaps overproduction) found in retail chains. It was also nice to know how his business is responsible in terms of sustainability such as reducing the number of off-cuts and valuing efficiency in terms of production.

The seminar offered interesting perspectives in many different issues and not only was an interesting learning experience for the students but also the speakers themselves. There were interesting conclusions brought up that weren’t in the planned talks such as society’s obsession with the new- as soon as something becomes yellow-ish and not as pristine, there is a tendency to throw it away and replace it with something new and how the government’s lack of legislation becomes a hindrance to the lack of positive action to waste problems.

It is common knowledge that in today’s society, there are more pressures for individuals and businesses to recycle. Sustainability has now become a big issue and we are constantly reminded (sometimes by guilt) to think about the impact of our actions on the environment. That said, what if in doing this, we are doing more harm than help?

An article in the December 2008 issue of Private Hospital magazine raises the issue of how what we instinctively think is the more environmental product is actual worse for the environment. The article stresses how we have to look at the bigger picture in our actions- for example, the use of porcelain cups could be more harmful to the environment compared to using plastic cups when factoring in detergents, the use of hot water and the amount.

The article highlights the idea of life cycle assessments- how they are needed to fully understand the facts of how environmentally friendly a product or process is. This forces us to see past the “environmentally friendly” label and truly assess the impact of a product in terms of it’s life cycle- from the cradle to the grave. This is an especially important issue in health care: does the use of a re-usable product justify the amount of chemicals and energy used to treat the product? Is it better for the environment if you simply opt for the disposable product? Certainly these issues are important to consider when running hospitals with a high capacity. St. Vincent’s Hospital in my group’s area of Darlinghurst for example, comes to mind as it is an important landmark in my assigned street.

Is it really better for the environment?

These considerations are not so obvious as consumers tend to take the environmentally friendly label for granted. It is important to assess the product in context, from production to its end life. Next time you reach for the reusable bag, perhaps stop and ponder about the energy and resources needed to create the product.


References:

Private Hospital  2008, ‘Re-Use or Single-Use: Making the Decision, Private Hospital, December 2008, p. 65

The Scanlon 2007, soapbox.SUPERSTAR, viewed 31/08/2010<http://www.thescanlons.net/weblog/index.php?/weblog/making_nice_with_the_environment/&gt;