What a waste...

What a waste...

Such pretty colours, I thought, until I read the caption: Lithium mines, Atacama Desert, Chile.
© Edward Burtynsky

Ciao tutti!

I hope you've had a really good week. Is it just me, or did this one in particular actually 🕊 FLY 🕊 by?

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Each Sunday I write about something in the spirit of sustainability... and I do my best to make it relatively entertaining.

Our newsletter archive contains many articles covering a diverse range of topics. Popular ones currently include my ethical dilemma of whether to list on Amazon or not, (real) leather myths debunked, and a deep dive into Piñatex - a.k.a. pineapple "leather".

Last week I went to an exhibition called Waste Age at London's Design Museum. I can say, without any trace of hyperbole, that it was a life-changing show.

I spent 3 hours there, reading every description, watching every video. So for those of you who aren't in the UK / weren't able to make it (today is the closing day) I thought I would share the elements that struck me the most.

e-waste is the fastest growing type of "trash"
© Zoran Milich/Getty

One of my biggest take aways from the exhibition was that the VAST majority of the world economy's carbon footprint occurs not from our daily use of electricity and gadgets, but from further up the supply chain: during manufacturing.

Apple's iPhone provides a "nice", tangible example to illustrate. On page 2 of Apple's environmental report the company explains that 81% of an iPhone 13's carbon footprint occurs during MANUFACTURING. That's because rare elements are mined for chips (mining has a huuuuuge carbon footprint), toxic chemicals enable metal etching, and greenhouse gasses, such as sulphur hexafluoride, are used to manufacture our beloved touchscreens. A pithy 16% comes from we consumers using our devices throughout their lifetime. As painfully stated by Josh Lepawsky, "no amount of recycling by users of those phones can recoup the amount of carbon emitted during their manufacture."

That hurt: the realisation that even if we all became eco-saints overnight, the net effect on the economy's carbon footprint would be pretty insignificant.

The Value Hill, as presented in my TU Delft course: "Circular Economy: An introduction"

A quick aside: whilst recycling is great in many ways, in the circular economy it is seen as “the last resort”. This is because recycling destroys the most value (because product itself *is* physically destroyed) and the whole process requires a lot of energy. When I first learned about the above "Value Hill" my mind was blown.

As you can see, more eco-friendly alternatives include maintaining, reusing,repairing or remanufacturing from existing parts. Give it some thought! 💚

3D printed chairs made by Dirk van Kooij. I'm utterly In LOVE 💚💛

The first half of the exhibition was truly doom-and-gloom, full of long, serious, ashamed faces. The second half however was full of hope, and the energy of those shuffling around had lightened considerably. These rooms were full of furniture, fashion, inventions and processes designed to reduce or up-cycle waste.

I completely fell in love with Dirk van Kooij, who has made the Chubby Chair - above in yellow. Each Chubby is printed from 10kg of chipped, recycled fridge interiors (i.e. one standard fridge). What a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant way of creating. I was, am, completely in awe, and I think every single person I've met subsequently has heard about my new Chubby love.

Two other memorable mentions include:

  • Kamikatsu, a village in Japan, made a "zero waste" declaration in 2003. Their inspiring system offers 45 categories for recycling.
  • An alternative approach to housing-improvement in Bordeaux, France. Construction, along with mining, is one of the most wasteful industries. Rather than demolishing an unsightly social housing complex, Pritzker Prize-winning architects Lacaton & Vassal renovated them. Here are photos of the transformation, below, and this article goes into more depth on the inspiring project.


There was so much more that I can't cover in this short newsletter. If you're equally hungry to learn more, I highly recommend the exhibition book (printed, naturally, on very recycled paper!). It has some exceptionally inspiring short essays too, that have pushed my buttons.

One further, major personal take-away was that I need to step up my game in with LUXTRA. Despite the bio-base (apple, cactus, pineapple etc) of our materials, there is still a significant amount of polyurethane, which remains un-recyclable at present. Inspired by Dirk van Kooij (my new idol, yes) I am going to start shifting our core materials to those that are truly up-cycling waste materials. This will probably involve using more woven textiles (as opposed to leather-like) materials. Bananatex (a certified Cradle-to-Cradle* product) is a current front-runner.

Watch this space!
And have a really happy week ahead,

Jessica x

LUXTRA Founder | Re-inspired designer | Proud B Corp-er

*Don't worry: a future newsletter will go into what Cradle-to-Cradle actually means.


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