I want to get back to some­thing Jay said. See the invis­i­ble, under­stand the infra­struc­ture, do some­thing about it.” That’s real­ly what I’ve been doing for the last few years. 

book-coverThis is a book my mom gave me. It belonged to her fam­i­ly. It’s the 1942 edi­tion. This is the Citizen’s Advice Notes. It was giv­en by the gov­ern­ment, and this was actu­al­ly giv­en by the National Council for Social Service. Inside this book is basi­cal­ly a Bible of how you can live at that point, because there was mas­sive rationing. You could­n’t get—anything that you want­ed to do, you could­n’t throw food away, you had to get all your fur­ni­ture through cer­tain places, etc., you had to grow your own crops. 

book-pagesFlash for­ward to the pages on sal­vage. This is from the Ministry of Salvage specif­i­cal­ly. Two areas, one on waste paper, one on string. There was no paper pulp being shipped in, so we talk about the infra­struc­ture, it had to be com­plete­ly rethought at this point. And they real­ly need paper, because they used it for the ammu­ni­tion box­es, etc. So you weren’t allowed to do cer­tain things. You weren’t allowed to destroy any waste paper. You weren’t allowed to wrap any food up in waste paper. You weren’t allowed to use it for pack­ag­ing. You weren’t allowed to throw it away with oth­er mixed mate­ri­als. You weren’t allowed to do posters that were big­ger than about [holds hands to indi­cate ~11“x17”]. And you def­i­nite­ly weren’t allowed to use it for pro­mot­ing things.

The same with string. You weren’t allowed to destroy any string that was about big­ger than [indi­cates ~12″]. You weren’t allowed to mix it. You weren’t allowed to throw it away. You weren’t allowed to burn it. You had to keep it. You had to give it back to the right people.

vlcsnap-2015-04-01-18h39m55s111So zip for­ward, this is two arti­cles from the Sun in 2009 about peo­ple being buried in their own shop­ping and waste, this kind of ris­ing obses­sion about stuff, how we iden­ti­fy our­selves. There’s always this thing about ask­ing your kids, What do you want to be when you grow up?” and your kids go, Oh, I want to be an astro­naut, I want to be a doc­tor.” And actu­al­ly now they’re, I want want to own a Gucci hand­bag and I want to dri­ve a fast car.” So the way we’re iden­ti­fy­ing our­selves is through stuff that we aspire to rather than the peo­ple that we want to be.

vlcsnap-2015-04-01-18h51m14s67And the con­se­quence of that, we talk about mate­ri­als and we talk about one kilo of cop­per. There’s actu­al­ly a lot of work being done around a kind of mate­r­i­al foot­print that we will need to con­tin­ue the way we live. That’s been very inter­est­ing to me as a design­er because I can just see, if you talk about try­ing to be self-sufficient in a sort of vil­lage con­text, don’t have your list up there with plas­tic items on it because you are nev­er going to be able to do it. Because these infra­struc­tures where we get our stuff are absolute­ly mas­sive. So for every ton of house­hold waste that gets thrown away, there’s about five tons of mate­r­i­al behind that. The ratio of things that go into our prod­ucts is so extra­or­di­nary. For instance I’m kind of obsessed about tooth­brush­es, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. But if you think about the mate­r­i­al that’s gone into just a nor­mal tooth­brush, a plas­tic dis­pos­able toothbrush—four months of use if you fol­low direc­tions from the den­tist. There’s 1.5 kilos of raw mate­ri­als in those tooth­brush­es, a very very heavy, heavy tooth­brush. A sheet of vir­gin A4 paper (so not recy­cled) has 10 liters of water in it, just one piece of paper. 

So all these hid­den infra­struc­tur­al and mate­r­i­al costs go into the stuff that we just use very very quick­ly. We just kind of con­sume them, we don’t think about them, we just want to go on with our lives. When you start actu­al­ly sort of pick­ing away, look­ing at it all, you real­ize how shock­ing it is. And then once those prod­ucts being made and all that mate­r­i­al is going to waste just with­in the fac­to­ry process, all the stuff we con­sume becomes waste. 90% of that becomes waste with­in six months. It’s very fast turn­around of things, and that’s durable stuff, it’s not [patchy?], it’s durable things. It’s quite shocking.

vlcsnap-2015-04-01-18h56m52s102So this is some­thing I think about when I brush my teeth. I have a par­tic­u­lar tooth­brush that I like. We all get attached to these things. So I just want to talk about tooth­brush­es, because we all have to use them, I hope. And we all have these strange rela­tion­ships with tooth­brush­es, because it’s there usu­al­ly around four months of use. If you use it for longer, you end up with a tooth­brush like this. This prod­uct has been designed very very specif­i­cal­ly for you. For instance, if you think about how you’re going to choose a tooth­brush. You have a wall of tooth­brush­es there. They’ve designed it for col­or, they’ve designed it for price point, they’ve designed for medi­um and soft, it’s also been designed for ergonom­ics. So a huge amount of R&D has gone into that tooth­brush; I would say very lit­tle about what hap­pens to that tooth­brush afterwards.

vlcsnap-2015-04-01-18h59m45s74This is my tooth­brush. It’s an Oral‑B one. And I did a bit of a quick mate­r­i­al LCA, which is a life-cycle analy­sis, and worked out there were at least four types of plas­tic in that tooth­brush. There’s the sponge bit, the hard bit, the nylon—there’s two types of nylon in there. [The bris­tles.] And this tooth­brush has been made, designed, and man­u­fac­tured, for very fast cost-efficient man­u­fac­tur­ing processes. 

And then I was on the beach, and I actu­al­ly found this one, I brought it with me as well. [unclear sen­tence] This tooth­brush I found on the beach in Wales and it’s prob­a­bly been in the sea for about two years and it’s actu­al­ly still com­plete­ly usable. Because part of the thing is that these mate­ri­als that we’re using for our prod­ucts are com­plete­ly over-specced. Plastic will last for about a thou­sand years. This type of plas­tic is very very strong, very hard-wearing. And this is actu­al­ly a tooth­brush that a friend sent me which is from the garbage patch in Hawaii on Kamilo Beach and you can see there’s still bris­tles on it. This has been in the sea for a very very long time and is still usable, if any­one is desperate.

Why is this an issue? I’m sure you’ve heard sto­ries about the garbage patch in—there’s sev­en actu­al­ly. And they’re not real­ly patch­es, let’s get that clear. They’re actu­al­ly more like soups of plas­tic, because plas­tic does­n’t biode­grade, it photo-degenerates. So it gets small­er and small­er and small­er. So we have all these issues about what kind of impact does all this stuff that we’re throw­ing away, is it actu­al­ly going to turn around and bite us in the end? And this is a sam­ple tak­en from a patch which has got a 1 in 6 ratio of plank­ton to plas­tic. There’s six times more plas­tic than plank­ton. So you can imag­ine the poten­tial impact on the food chain, etc.

This is a tooth­brush that my father brought back, and it’s actu­al­ly a dis­pos­able four-month lifes­pan tooth­brush, but it’s elec­tric. So, you get two in a pack. You can actu­al­ly at the moment get two packs for the price of one. So you can get a whole year’s worth of sup­ply for eight quid. It’s actu­al­ly got the WEEE direc­tive sign which is the wheely bin with the cross in it, which as I think you know means that you can’t put it in the land­fill. It has to go into the recy­cling sys­tem. It also tells you that it’s got a Duracell bat­tery in the back and that has a four-month lifes­pan so either the head goes first or the bat­tery. If you try and take the bot­tom off to try and put a new bat­tery back in, it breaks a seal and stops work­ing prop­er­ly. I tried.

So we start­ed to take it apart. This is as far as we got. I had to get my real­ly rudi­men­ta­ry toolk­it out. Sawed it in half. The first thing I real­ized was actu­al­ly the motor in it isn’t attached to the head, so basi­cal­ly what it does, it makes your hand vibrate. And then it pats like that, but it does­n’t actu­al­ly move. So it’s effec­tive­ly elec­tric brush­ing by osmo­sis. Talk about cop­per. This is where all your cop­per is, it’s in lit­tle tiny motors like this. I packed it all up, sent it over to my friend who works in a mate­ri­als lab, and it’s got about 26 ele­ments in this tooth­brush and it’s got a four-month lifes­pan. So it’s quite inter­est­ing to think about that. 

Why is that an issue? This is what we’ve been look­ing at. This take-make-waste flow. This is very lin­ear. So we have no infra­struc­ture set up, to find all these 26 ele­ments. And these are so so tiny if you start to try and find, for instance the neodymi­um inside this tooth­brush which makes the motor work, it’s so so tiny. How are we sup­posed to have this huge infra­struc­ture to take this stuff out and get it back? Because these kinds of ele­ments are on a par­tic­u­lar list which is about scarci­ty. There are 14 crit­i­cal ele­ments that have been iden­ti­fied from the peri­od­ic table from Europe.

Approximately 80% of envi­ron­men­tal costs are pre­de­ter­mined at the design stage. So there’s maybe a design­er going, Oh shit. You know, actu­al­ly the way I’m design­ing this tooth­brush is the rea­son why it’s end­ing up in land­fill sites.” 

Great_recovery_A5-1So this is the real premise of the project about recov­ery. It’s all about waste being a design flaw. Because what you want to do is design it in a way that peo­ple can get it back out again, and start build­ing infra­struc­ture that can do that. So the project in the RSA is real­ly look­ing at how we can build infra­struc­ture and co-creation sys­tems with design­ers and map­ping out all the play­ers in that field. So you’ve got your land­fill, your mate­r­i­al recov­ery people—a huge amount of knowl­edge in this area, the chemists, the man­u­fac­tur­ers, the brands, con­sumers, anthro­pol­o­gists, aca­d­e­mics, investors, and pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and try to work out who should be involved in this process. 

We’ve been tak­ing up a slight­ly big­ger toolk­it now to eight dif­fer­ent places around the coun­try. Disused tin mines in Cornwall, lots of e‑recovery waste facil­i­ties, we’ve been in tex­tiles, we’ve been doing paper, we’ve been look­ing at pack­ag­ing and we’ve been look­ing at the infra­struc­ture. How it’s col­lect­ed, cur­rent­ly best prac­tice. Which is usu­al­ly crush-burn, crush-melt, see what you can get out.

We’ve been doing lots and lots of film­ing, it’s all on the web­site. And we’ve been tak­ing things apart. This is the one of the first tear­downs we did, which is a very estab­lished design tool, tak­ing things apart to see what there is. It’s about find­ing the invis­i­ble, as Jay said. Taking a wash­ing machine apart. We’ve tak­en lap­tops apart; very inter­est­ing. Particularly we’ve also been source map­ping all of these mate­ri­als, so fol­low­ing the design and man­u­fac­ture route from tan­ta­lum and coltan mines in the Congo to your doorstep, and see­ing how far it goes. It goes around the world about four times, for like 300 quid, which is a bar­gain, really.

Analyzing things to the great­est degree. This is a chemist and the inven­tor in res­i­dence at the sci­ence muse­um look­ing at the head of a tooth­brush. We also found where all the met­al is. There’s loads of met­al pins in there, which we had­n’t found before. We’ve been get­ting design­ers to do ingre­di­ents lists of things to find out what they think are in it. We’ve also been tak­ing things to the mate­ri­als lab and real­ly ana­lyz­ing them and find­ing quite unex­pect­ed ele­ments in there which we did­n’t expect. 

There’s forty ele­ments in a mobile phone. I’d just like to say that again: there are forty ele­ments in a mobile phone. Don’t wor­ry about cop­per so much. Actually cop­per is on the crit­i­cal ele­ments list and the rea­son they’re on that list is because of scarci­ty, and the fact it’s hard­er to get out of the earth. There’s obvi­ous­ly a finite sup­ply. It’s also about geopol­i­tics, and we’ve been hear­ing a bit about that today as well. So these ele­ments are get­ting hard­er and more expen­sive. Businesses are going, Hold on a minute, I can’t do busi­ness as usu­al any­more because I can’t afford it.” And that’s why cir­cu­lar econ­o­my con­cepts are com­ing into play at the moment, and why design­ers are play­ing a more and more crit­i­cal role in these things.

We’ve been tak­ing peri­od­ic table cards with us, try­ing to get design­ers to work out what they think is in their prod­ucts, and sur­pris­ing­ly they know very lit­tle. We’ve been tak­ing pack­ag­ing apart. This is quite an inter­est­ing one because we thought this was a very sim­ple plas­tic piece that should be able to go through the infra­struc­ture that we have for plas­tic recy­cling very eas­i­ly and yet it has a mas­sive met­al spring in it which caus­es huge amounts of prob­lems when you get it to the infra­struc­ture stage where you’re try­ing to recov­er the mate­ri­als because it con­t­a­m­i­nates loads. And talk­ing to the peo­ple who make this (I had a con­ver­sa­tion with them last week) they said, Oh yeah, we used to have a plas­tic spring in there. But we found it was 2 cents more expen­sive so we took them all out and made them met­al.” So when you talk to these peo­ple, they’re not talk­ing about 2 cents, they’re talk­ing about mil­lions a day, pro­duc­ing this stuff. Millions a day. When you talk about cre­at­ing new vil­lages, cre­at­ing new con­cepts around cities, you’ve got to think of this scale. It’s absolute­ly scary, because when these things go to that mas­sive eco­nom­ics of scale, they become so important. 

121218_Circular_diagramWe found [?] lessons in things, and we found strange objects like toast­ers which actu­al­ly have no val­ue, and things which did have val­ue like reused cad­mi­um met­al in engines. We basi­cal­ly took them apart, smashed them. And we’re now at a point where we’re redesign­ing them back up. We devel­oped a mod­el which takes think­ing about the sys­tem design, think­ing about longevi­ty, think­ing about mate­r­i­al recov­ery and actu­al­ly allow­ing peo­ple to start map­ping out how they’d start design­ing things. So if you imag­ine that you’re design­ing a tooth­brush, at the moment you kind of design it for longevi­ty because the mate­ri­als have got such a long lifes­pan when in fact we should be tak­ing them out on a very fast recov­ery loop.