Daily Bulletin


Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Tom Lee, Lecturer, Faculty of Design and Architecture Building, University of Technology Sydney
How to turn the waste crisis into a design opportunity

You might never have heard of expanded polystyrene, but you’ve definitely used it. It’s the lightweight white foam used for everything from packing peanuts to holding boxes of veggies at the supermarket.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is versatile, waterproof, and surprisingly strong. Unfortunately, it’s also a nightmare to dispose of. It fragments easily into many small, light pieces which can be easily carried away by the wind, and is difficult to process.

Read more: We can't recycle our way to 'zero waste'

Australia exports some EPS to be recycled overseas, but we have less than one collection point per state. All of this means that The NSW Evironmental Protection Agency estimates that some 12,000 tonnes of EPS is sent to landfill every year. According to the Australian Plastics Recycling survey, about 14% of EPS is recovered for recycling. Most of that is exported – only around 1.6% of all the EPS used in Australia is recycled here.

This is why many researchers are looking for ways to re-purpose EPS, taking advantage of this very useful material and keeping it out of landfill.

Turning trash into treasure

Over the past seven weeks our Master of Design students at UTS have been working on this problem. On level two of the UTS tower, down in the carpark, is a piece of machinery that turns EPS into patties of hardened plastic. These are collected on a palette, taken to a processing facility, and turned into low grade industrial products like traffic bumpers.

EPS is fed into the machine at one end. It’s then shredded, heated, and pressed through an opening at the other end.

It coils into a messy sausage on the cement floor, before being quickly worked into a rough disk by a service worker using a rudimentary, rake-like tool. The spectacle is vaguely reminiscent of watching chefs work pizza dough. Every week cluttered stacks of EPS become these compact, easy-to-handle patties.

Artist Peter Trimble uses a similar method to create Rubbish Stools out of EPS. The process removes the air from the material, reducing it to 3-5% of its original volume.

A different kind of meaning emerges when this substance, rather than piling up in an inchoate lump on the floor, transforms into something useful: a chair, bowl, or tray.

Design and systemic change

Design involves finding ways to create value and meaning with materials that might otherwise remain inconspicuous and neglected. Rather than dismiss EPS as redundant packaging, we aim to see it as something with its own inherent functional and aesthetic value.

In their initial experiments my design students discovered that EPS can be a beautiful material. Through the application of heat and use of specific moulds, EPS can take on an organic, porous texture, reminiscent of bone, or an immaculate, plastic sheen, almost like glass.

This intensity of contrast is one of the common attributes of aesthetic beauty. It could easily be turned into an object, such as a vase or bowl, that someone might hold onto for life.

Considered in isolation, these insights are of limited value to a sustainable Australia. It doesn’t help that many people if the UTS gift store begins selling items made from recycled material (although obviously it is a very small improvement).

However, if these things find their way to landfill soon after purchase the sustainability benefit is marginal.

Read more: If we can't recycle it, why not turn our waste plastic into fuel?

The more significant change comes when good design helps create a broader shift. For example, could UTS change its recycling systems to accommodate a range of ongoing projects, designed to supply the needs of the university community?

Better still, could those results be applied to large shopping centres, local councils, or small towns? Sometimes seeing the beauty in an overlooked piece of rubbish can open our minds to many different possibilities.

The authors would like to acknowledge Andrew Simpson, founder of Vert Design, for his guidance and teaching expertise in the student project.

Authors: Tom Lee, Lecturer, Faculty of Design and Architecture Building, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-to-turn-the-waste-crisis-into-a-design-opportunity-98932

Writers Wanted

Coronavirus disrupted my kid's first year of school. Will that set them back?

arrow_forward

What are manufactured home estates and why are they so problematic for retirees?

arrow_forward

Things to Ask To Your Removalists

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion