The project began by applying design methodologies to the analysis of government policy. Specifically, the Mayor of London Business Waste Policy.
Waste Labs began as an initiative to create new business models for urban areas to help tackle the problems of business waste, reducing the waste streams to landfills. As business waste (Mayor of London Business Waste Strategy, 2011) accounts for 80% of London’s rubbish, and 99.3% of London’s businesses are SMEs, I wanted to create a small scale system that could offer services for this particular sector.
It is estimated that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, and this will bring huge challenges for the waste processing and management sectors, where innovative and fresh approaches will be needed to tackle waste streams efficiently and at low costs. The first Waste Labs initiative is the Glass lab.
Glass lab began as an experimental project that would tackle one of the 5 main business waste streams: glass. The other waste streams are paper, card, food & plastic.
Glass is the waste material with the largest volume-weight ratio making its transport very energy intensive and costly. In addition, the recycling glass industry is extremely energy hungry, running furnaces at over 1500 degrees Celsius for 24 hours, remelting glass for reuse in the packaging sector.
The objectives since the beginning were to create a new local system that would collect glass waste from local businesses at no cost, process it at a Glass lab local facility and manufacture products for local use. In this way I would highlight the real value of waste, helping to bring about a cultural shift as a result.
I would begin the journey with glass and once scaled up and tested, I would carry on tackling the next business waste streams, creating new business models and technologies for each of these waste materials.
The process began during my MA degree at the Royal College of Art, where I experimented with glass during almost one year, understanding its qualities and its potential use. I graded the collected glass into four different grades going from powder to coarse, and separating each glass colour. I created a machine that would allow me to get these 4 grades during the crushing process. As the objective of the project was to keep energy as low as possible I started experimenting with a vegetable based bio resin as binder for the graded glass.
I realised that in order for me to create something new, I would have to destroy the identity of the waste material. Reduce it to its original state.
I experimented crushing the glass to different sizes and documented the qualities observed at different stages. For example, the larger sizes were jewel -like, transparent and sometimes still dangerous to handle. As I created smaller and smaller sizes or grades of glass, it gradually lost its transparency and became more sand-like.
As a result of this experimentation, I concluded that each grade of glass would be used for applications that would benefit from the qualities they offered. Tiles and floor surfaces for the smaller grades, where abrasion is needed and light and furniture applications where the transparency of the glass would show best.
I used many differnt types of binding agents, always considering the carful balance between low-energy solutions, material rescue and reuse, durability and new aesthetics for waste.
I tested melting points for my glass samples to determine if reducing the temperature and melting time would help reduce energy used.
As part of the serviced the Glass labs would provide is the free collection of glass waste form local businesses, so a way to collect and crush the glass bottles on site was required.
I designed a portable machine that would crush the glass bottles and provide me with the 4 main glass grades I used in the different applications (sand, small, medium, large).
I created fine applications to showcase the potential reach of the products. I focused on public space applications such as floor tiles and light bollards for parks.
The project was shortlisted for the Sustainability Awards at the RCA and I began a collaboration with 19 Greek Street Gallery, where the project was to be scaled up and refined into a commercially viable model. Click here to continue to that stage.