Exploring post disposable futures
Last week Today partnered with KeepCup for Melbourne Knowledge Week (From the Ground Up — An exploration of Food, Hospitality and Tech in Melbourne) to run a fast paced workshop on the topic of post disposable futures. Our goal was to start an important conversation around Melbourne’s future waste plan.
In this mini series we introduce the linear, recycling and circular economies and explore what it means to be post disposable. We also share our learnings and activities from the workshop so you can start the conversation within your community or city.
What is post disposable?
It’s not a word you often throw around in a casual conversation, so it was important for us to define what disposable meant. Examples of disposable products are all around us, from coffee cups to plastic straws and single use party products, they’ve been designed for convenience negating the detrimental impact on our environment.
The features we concentrated on for this project were that disposables were products designed for single use. Features include: low perceived value, cheap to produce and short-term convenience.
How we defined post disposable
Post disposable is an idea, a philosophy and a movement spearheaded by Australia’s very own Dr. Leyla Acaroglu and its being rolled out through Disruptive Design. Its objective is to make waste obsolete through activism and design. Its highly optimistic and provocative approach to sustainability leans toward revolution over small incremental change.
The definition we used for our research and workshop to ground our conversations was:
Post disposable — a system where waste is obsolete
To complicate things, post disposable plays an important role in the circular economy
The concepts around post disposable, fuel and support an idea that could change the world as we know it (which is why the whole concept is hard to explain fully to a layperson). In a short one-hour session, its challenge to share enough information with participants to not overwhelm or paralyse their decision making in workshop activities. We created definition cards and provocations to help explain and challenge our participants way of thinking.
What makes post disposable unique is its laser focus on the redesign of systems that involve the use single-use products like coffee cups, straws, plastic bottles and bags. Post disposable design, removes or redesigns these items for sharing, repair and reuse.
During our secondary research and expert interviews we found that the post disposable philosophy integrated well with some pretty big ideas and ideals including the circular and sharing economy, and design for closed loops systems that generate zero waste.
Caution: Recycling and post disposable are at odds with one another, even down-cycling feels like a lost opportunity
One thing that is clear through our desk research and discussions with sustainability experts — Recycling is the enemy of post disposable because it prevents reuse and in many cases devalues products.
Recycling in its own way enforces disposability because it perpetuates an unsustainable behaviour for individuals and companies. As the global recycling crises deepens, it’s important that when we design for sustainable futures we are considering solutions for future generations.
ICYMI, 91% of plastic waste isn’t recycled today so even suggesting recycling as a solution to global waste requires some suspension of disbelief.
Recycling is a good back up but not a viable solution for the planet. It tries to reclaim some value at the end of the products life cycle, at this point all the damage has already been done.
A good way to position recycling is to look at the Waste Management Hierarchy. It positions recycling just above energy recovery (the use of waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel). It’s goal is to recover a minimal amount of embodied energy from waste.
Comparing linear, recycling and circular economies
At the moment much of our economy is ‘linear’ meaning that raw materials are used to make a product, and after its been used, any waste (e.g. packaging, or itself if single use) is thrown away. What is interesting about the linear economy is that value lies in selling and buying (consumption) with little or no value associated afterward, meaning there is insignificant economic value to retrieve or recycle at the end-of-lifecycle.
In a recycling economy, some materials (if suitable are recovered, remanufactured) and are then reused. For example, waste glass is used to make new glass and waste paper is used to make new paper. At the moment the technology to identify materials, sort and recycle them is problematic. Not all materials can be recovered, especially at the rate we are producing new “waste”.
Many parts of Europe are already experimenting and exploring circular economies. Running on the circular economy model means preventing waste by a making products and materials more efficiently and reusing them for as long as possible. If new raw materials are needed, they must be obtained sustainably so that the natural and human environment is not damaged.
You’re probably left thinking, what now? what’s my role in all this? After reading the last couple of paragraphs you’ve probably got a taste for the complexity of these big ideas and ideals.
If we are to shift our thinking beyond the linear systems, then the first step is to start understanding our roles now and into the future. The shift to networks and systems is fundamentally changing the way we organise things (socially, economically, environmentally).
“We only have to think of Facebook and social media networks to appreciate the significance of shifting from a linear system with a single centre to a systems view where each node in the network is in effect its own centre, in turn connected to other nodes and connections.” — Michiel Schwarz, Sustainism
In doing so the onus of responsibility doesn’t lie solely on one actor. Relationships become crucial in the way responsibilities are shared among different actors.
It becomes important to identify the connections and relationships that build that system, where the influence lies and understand the attributes and barriers of each relationship.
Our workshop has been designed to map the actors (consumers, funders, manufacturers, designers, big business) that operate in these current and future systems to enable us to start have the the right people in the room when designing post disposable futures.
So what did we actually do? Check out our workshop activities.
To KeepCup and City of Melbourne for supporting this thought experiment.
And all of these lovely people who pointed us in the right direction:
Jenni Downes, Michiel Schwarz, Clare Brass, Damien Melotte, Katie Potter, Laura Nino Caceres, Erika Martin, Melanie Oke and Amy Whitfield.
Also a big high five 🖐 to our workshop participants, designers and helpers.
If you want to get in touch to discuss our work in co-design or post disposable futures please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
Circular Economy: An Introduction
Led by Delft University of Technology Level Beginner Length 7 weeks Commitment 3–6 hours per week Cost Free
An Introduction to the Circular Economy
Led by Unschool Level Beginner Length 5 sections, self-paced Cost $20
Download a Post Disposable Activation Kit