Photo taken by Amy Whitfield

Post disposable futures — the workshop

Jo Szczepanska
Published in
7 min readMay 17, 2018


It’s all fun and games until you have to get up in front of a bunch of people you don’t necessarily know very well and try to compel them to design futures that are significantly different to what they currently know.

We were looking to get our participants thinking about the world of post disposable (and circular economies) when they all have been accustomed to was disposable goods, waste management and recyclable solutions. What this meant was that we didn’t want to rush off and ideate around light ‘solutions’ when in an hour what we could really do is sit with the complexity of the alternative economies.

What were our goals

  • Get a bunch of great people in a room with a rich variety of perspectives, roles and responsibilities
  • Begin creating a common language around post disposable
  • Light a fire and provoke new thinking
  • Get participants to see where everyone was at, and highlight the importance of working together

Who attended the session

We had roughly 55 attend the event, all of which had various degrees of knowledge around post disposable design, circular economies, and sustainability. What was excellent to see was they had backgrounds in government, manufacturing, service industries, design and start-ups (so yes we pulled off some real co-design).

Designing the workshop

The workshop was an ongoing collaboration between us and the team at KeepCup and Today. Although we couldn’t wait to start designing a post disposable futures, we had the massive constraint of having just one hour of people’s time. Here is an outline of our workshop schedule for those of you who are curious.

Time for the debrief — what worked well

Picking a voice at the beginning

At the start of the workshop we got participants to select the voice of a person or a group that they wanted to represent for the hour. We asked people to select something close to where they were currently but extend it to where they could see themselves fitting in a post disposable world. Similar to what an empathy map might do, we asked them to extend their character to what would motivate them to participate in a circular economy and what might get in their way.

Activity 1. Reflection and representation

Mapping roles (impact and influence) to the circular economy

Our follow up activity — either individual or in pairs — was to take two colour coordinated tokens and place them on a giant map of the circular economy. Participants were asked to place them where they felt they could have most impact or influence.

With a quick run through of the elements of the circular economy participants were set to go. Note to self: This could have gone terribly wrong, it was entirely unscripted. Our assumption was that each stage would be a mix of stakeholders, with perhaps a few sections with no people at all. We wanted to discover who needed to be a part of the process at each stage of the post disposable system.

Where our tokens landed

Once we had our tokens down we broke into groups. The goal was to create a magnified map of each stage of the circular economy. We wanted to have people map who they were representing, who was missing from the conversation and whether they were an enabler or detractors of a post disposable system.

The maps varied in detail and become good starting points for future testing or co-design sessions.

Actor mapping for Sell/ Lend/ Share

Talking about possibilities

Just having the time to talk about circular economies and post disposable futures for an hour did spin out some great things for us to dig into a bit further.

  • In what ways will our roles and responsibilities change to facilitate a post disposable world?
  • What relationships do we need to strengthen — or new relationships do we need to create — between people, enterprises and government departments?
  • What is the role of design? How does design help in educating individuals and industries about post disposable futures then prototyping them?
  • What mindsets, tools or spaces do we need to succeed?
  • Where do we collectively feel we could start?

What didn’t work as expected

We simply needed more time

One hour is clearly not enough for this sort of deep dive into a very different way of thinking. But it is enough to test if the whole concept of co-design for post disposable has legs. For future workshops my current line of thinking is closer to a summit, forum or ‘jam’ over two days. The first evening would be a designed as a meet and greet, where participants are introduced to the complex concepts and theories by experts in what makes up a post disposable system.

The following day would be designed as a ‘choose your own adventure’ where participants would spend:

  • 1.5 hours for mapping the existing and future system
  • 2 hours designing principles,
  • An hour formulating challenges and then
  • any time left coming up with ideas for prototypes and pilots (designing and testing them)

We needed to level the playing field

Not all participants were familiar with circular economies and post disposable systems. They were curious, but they weren’t experts. We needed to spend more time making sure everyone had the framing and language to engage with the topic.

There are a few approaches to ‘on-boarding’ for a workshop that have varied results. I feel the best option is to simply send a great video summary or blurb in the invite to the event (in this case we had a few walk ins). Given the complexity of this topic—an info session a day or two before could have helped people to engage on a deeper level and have the confidence to speak up.

Surveys, priming questions and pre-work are other ways we could educate participants ahead of time or gather information about varying levels of knowledge.

Holding the futures space was a challenge

During the mapping we found it hard to keep participants in the futures space, many were finding common ground when reverting to conversations about the status quo and the immediate challenges they faced.

An alternative to this (given more time) would be to run the phase mapping activity twice. One mapping our existing relationships and pressures and an overlay map that visualised a post disposable state.

Using examples and focusing on a specific product (cups, bags, bottles) would have helped if we were more focused on ideation. We used conversation cards to help dialogue throughout the workshop. Provocations and video montages also work to shift thinking from what’s normal to what’s possible.

So, what’s next

Well the good news is we are just getting started, we’ve learnt a lot from our first sessions and want to keep exploring this space.

We’ll be having a think about how the work we’ve done (including what we’ve learnt) might feed into City of Melbourne’s Draft Waste and Resource Recovery Strategy 2030.

If you are interested in the post disposable space you have a few things you could do today, regardless of where you are at.

Get educated, get involved, get in touch

Final thoughts

Post disposable design and the circular economy is a huge opportunity.

Disposable products are everywhere, so going post disposable is a huge shift in thinking.

In a practical sense transitioning to a future that eliminates single-use products and disposable objects toward something circular and waste free means a drastic intervention and redesign. Billions of disposable single-use products are used everyday, they appeal to us because they are convenient for businesses and consumers because they are cheap (or free) for people to use and dispose of. *Although that may all be about to change if the Latte Levy in the UK catches on globally.

Going post disposable means designing products and services that are reused for as long as possible. It changes the approach from creating something as cheaply as possible toward something durable, sortable, cleanable and repairable. Having reuse as a product goal has the flow on effect of creating new industries — or evolving old ones — that currently don’t exist.

Play along at home, work, or school.

Download our workshop materials including instructions and activities
(and tell us how it goes).

Special thanks

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



Jo Szczepanska
Writer for

Jo wants to live in a fair and healthy world, where services are co-designed with communities. She's multidisciplinary designer with a background in research.