Ball & Doggett's Evening of Rubbish Talks delivered inspiration to the crowd of designers and graphic media professionals who gathered at The Distillery in Sydney on 30 May.
Teaming up with paper maker G . F Smith, Ball & Doggett has taken the Rubbish Talks to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney with the aim of highlighting the value of finding creative solutions to the world's waste challenge.
One of the biggest waste makers is the take-away coffee industry – in Australia alone we use 2.7 million paper cups every day, or just under a billion a year. First presenter of the night, G . F Smith's Jutta Birkenhauer, explained how her company has taken on the challenge of fighting this problem by developing a paper that is made from recycled coffee cups but which, ironically, it hopes to discontinue as soon as possible. Why? “Because it's drawn from a product that should be outlawed,” Birkenhauer says. “Our love affair with coffee is creating a huge problem.”
She says that as a society we have to change our behaviour, because using PE-lined disposable paper cups is not sustainable. But until this is solved, Birkenhauer says, Extract – which is available in Australia through Ball & Doggett – is a step in the right direction.
One of the early adopters of Extract is UK department store Selfridges' whose paper bags are now made from Extract in a customised yellow. And better still, it has trained its sales staff to tell the consumer that the bags are made from paper comprised in part from recycled cup waste.
Five coffee cups go into each sheet of Extract. That the product is not made totally from recycled cups has seen the company draw some criticism, but as Birkenhauer explains, and as those involved in the industry would know, this would be physically impossible.
She also explained that G . F Smith had to include fresh fibres in the composition for binding the product, and to reduce the amount of 'dirty' fibre so that the end product could still be considered a thing of beauty.
As she puts it, Extract is the result of chemistry and artistry combined to form something beautiful from waste.
“So let's not view this as a product launch,” she said, “this is the start of a movement.”
Next up on the night was self proclaimed optimistic existentialist Claire Mueller. Mueller is a designer who has moved away from her background in fashion to become a purpose-led brand consultant helping companies deliver positively disruptive ideas.
In Mueller's view, waste is just a design flaw, and she shared three examples of inspirational concepts that have seen waste converted into product with scalable potential – a natural leather alternative called Pinatex, made from plant fibre waste from the pineapple production process; Air Ink, a functional ink created out of carbon from exhaust fumes, and Adidas futurecraft.loop, a project that sees the use of recycled plastic as part of the composition of running shoes, which themselves are recyclable.
In her closing remarks Mueller cited Pinata inventor Dr Carmen Hijosa, who says: “Design is not just about product. Design is about responsibility.”
The evening ended with the duo of Tom Hobbs and Rupert Gillies from surfboard maker Spooked Kooks, telling the story of their tough journey to develop their Dead Hippie surfboard with recycled content. The audience heard that it took a long time to find a partner that would back their idea, which they now have found in an organisation called The Plastic Bank. They spoke too of the challenges of working with recycled plastic, an “unpredictable” substance that melts and cools at a much faster rate than virgin material. They said help from plastics engineers had been invaluable in finally succeeding to bring to market a board that had recycled plastic in the component parts – the fins, fin box and underside, plus the fin key and leash plug.
Given the technical and financial obstacles (recycled plastic is three times more expensive than virgin raw material), the pair said they realised that they can't make a board entirely from recycled plastic, and also that this concept will be difficult to scale.
“Our approach is to share our knowledge and expertise in the hope that this will inspire others to take up the challenge,” they said.
In the Q& A session that rounded off the evening, all the speakers concurred: Making a start, no matter how small, is better than not starting at all.