Design Museum to host an exhibition showing what design can do to tackle the critical issue of waste.


To coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the Design Museum will host an exhibition showing what design can do to tackle the critical issue of waste and its environmental consequences across the world.

Stella McCartney SU19 ECONYL® jacket and pants made from reclaimed nylon from fishnets and factory waste

The exhibit features visionary designers who are reinventing our relationship with waste, including contributions from Formafantasma, Stella McCartney, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Fernando Laposse, Bethany Williams, Phoebe English, Natsai Audrey Chieza and more. For the first time, visitors to the exhibition will be able to see new commissions that tackle the waste problem, including a large-scale art installation by Ibrahim Mahama made from e-waste in Ghana.

“We have to face the problem of waste – we can no longer ignore what happens to things when we get rid of them. Instead of thinking of objects as things that have an end of life, this exhibition proposes that they can have several lives. It’s not just an exhibit, it’s a #EndTheWasteAge campaign, and we all have an active part in our future. The exhibition will show that design is at the forefront of sustainable solutions.

Gemma Curtin, Waste Age Curator

Oxford Tire Pile, Westley, California, USA, 1999. Image by Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

The first section of the “Peak Waste” exhibit confronts visitors with the epic scale of global waste – arguing for urgent change. Shedding light on how mass production and our consumption habits are contributing to the growth of landfills, visitors will be able to track their waste around the world with a large-scale waste tracker. The exhibit examines how we got to today’s throwaway culture, a culture in which 80% of products are thrown away in their first six months of life.

A discarded ball of jeans, waiting to be recycled into Circulose – a new material made by scavenging cotton from used clothes for new clothes. Image by Alexander Donka / Renewcell.

Therefore, the exhibition focuses on solutions and new thinking. Entering ‘precious waste’, visitors will learn about the raw materials used in everyday products through object deconstructions by Studio Drift as well as the designers who are leading the way in recycling waste by new resources. These include durable materials in the fashion of Stella McCartney, Adidas and Bethany Williams; to building materials like Kenoteq’s K Briq, which uses almost 90% less carbon than a regular brick, and new lives for plastic like Snohetta’s S-1500 chair, made from fishnets discarded.

In “Post Waste”, discover proposals for new circular production methods, with an emphasis on cultivated materials rather than extracted materials. Visitors will see experimental designs that present a whole new world of clothing, products and packaging made from natural materials such as coconut, seaweed and corn husks. Fernando Laposse’s The Dogs bench uses raw fibers from the leaves of the Agave plant and The Blast Studio’s 3D printed column, made from waste and the Mycelium fungus, promotes waste-free architecture.

Lovely Trash Column by Blast studio – a 3D printed column from mycelium fed and grown on coffee cup waste. Image of Blast

This section also examines how we can change our systems and behaviors to consume less. It examines patterns of sharing, labeling, and designing for teardown, which can help items last longer, be repaired, and dramatically reduce the amount of product made and thrown away. From local solutions like Kamikatsu, a zero waste city in Japan to an exhibition of tool-sharing libraries around the world, the exhibition will promote waste-free living and imagine a smarter world for future generations.

“Design has helped create our wasteful society, and it will be crucial in building a cleaner future. It means rethinking the lifestyles and the materials that do so much damage. This upbeat exhibit demonstrates the energy and ingenuity put into meeting the challenge – and we want it to be a turning point. There is so much we can do, but it starts with understanding our waste. “

Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator and Co-Curator of Waste Age

As part of the conservation process, the Design Museum engaged creative consultants, Urge collective Sophie Thomas and Alexie Sommer with data analyst Ralf Waterfield to conduct an environmental audit of the Waste Age exhibition. This will allow the museum to clearly communicate the environmental impact of the exhibition, engaging designers, museum staff, partners and visitors in discussions to find solutions to reduce waste and the associated impact.

The era of waste: what can design do? opens Saturday, October 23, 2021 at the Design Museum. designmuseum.org/waste-age-what-can-design-do?

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Marc Westall

Mark Westall is the founder and editor-in-chief of FAD magazine Founder and co-editor of Art of Conversation and founder of the @worldoffad platform

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