Just when consumers were finally getting the message about reducing waste, Covid-19 washed up a tsunami of single-use plastic.
Local NGO Greeners Action has estimated that during the pandemic, in Hong Kong alone, more than 100 million pieces of single-use plastics have been disposed of every week – double the amount from a year earlier.
It is timely, then, that the question “Can we live in a world without plastic?” has been posed at Hong Kong Design Institute’s (HKDI) current exhibition, “Design Does* – For better and for worse”.
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Held at HKDI Gallery in Tseung Kwan O, following a stint at the Design Museum of Barcelona, the exhibition explores how design tackles the challenges faced by society – including sustainability, connectivity, marginalisation, consumerism, innovation and new materials – while showcasing eight projects conceived by designers from around the world.
Addressing the problem of plastic pollution, UK start-up Notpla (formerly Skipping Rocks Lab) presents non-polluting alternatives such as Ooho, an edible, biodegradable packaging made from seaweed. After launching with water bottles and sauce sachets, the founders are working on packaging for cosmetics and toiletries, and have recently developed a seaweed coating to make paperboard takeaway food boxes waterproof and oil-resistant.
The company mostly uses brown seaweed extract, which it describes as a great resource because it grows up to two metres a day, “and the packaging is circular because you can eat it, or nature would make it disappear really fast”.
Described as an exhibit in communications design, Pig 05049, a 2007 book by Dutch author Christien Meindertsma, describes 185 products that an actual pig (tagged with the number 05049) contributed to after its slaughter. Apart from predictable foodstuffs, some of the surprising results include ammunition, train brakes, car paint, bone china, soap and cigarettes. Meindertsma has said she was mostly interested in expressing the implications for conservation efforts – the first step being to “know where our things come from”.
“I have always been interested in raw materials, and to lay bare complex and once hidden processes,” she says.
In three years spent researching pig number 05049, Meindertsma met aluminium mould makers and ammunition producers, among others.
“What was striking is that the farmers actually had no clue what was made from their pigs, but the consumers, as in us, also had no idea of the pigs being in all these products,” she says. “As consumers, we have a complete level of disconnect, physically and psychologically, from the production of objects we use on a daily basis.
“So, Pig 05049 in a way reveals the lines that link raw materials with producers, products and consumers that have become so invisible in our increasingly globalised world.”
Another exhibit examines the issue of food security. Noting that a 70 per cent increase in the global food supply will be necessary to feed a projected 9.1 billion people by 2050, Spanish start-up Green in Blue (formerly Aquapioneers) has developed kits designed for those who live in flats to grow their own produce at home.
Tapping the trend of water-based horticulture, the company says that almost all kinds of crops are suitable for aquaponics, including herbs, leafy greens, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and zucchinis, all of which it claims “grow better and faster in aquaponic systems than in soil”.
On now, the “Design Does* – For better and for worse” exhibition runs until 10 January 2021. Details: hkdi.edu.hk/hkdi_gallery
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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