Waste is a big problem for retailers and consumers alike – so how can it be repurposed to find new value? Retail Week visited Waste Age at the Design Museum to find out

  • Every year, Europeans use nearly 26kgs of textiles and discard about 11kg of them – 87% of which ends up in landfill or incinerators
  • Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year, roughly half of all food produced for human consumption
  • 25 trillion macro and 51 trillion microplastics litter the oceans, equating to 500 times the number of stars in the Milky Way

These are just some of the stark facts found at the Waste Age exhibition at the Design Museum, where designers are rethinking and reusing waste to make new products.

The exhibition features products from a host of designers and retailers repurposing waste and using circular thinking.

In partnership with Adidas, Stella McCartney showcases a hoodie and tennis dress, as well as garments from her own collection.

The “infinite hoodie” is made using recycled fabric made from discarded clothing – NuCycl can be broken down and regenerated multiple times without losing quality.

The tennis dress is made from lab-grown protein thread, using genetically modified yeast, sugar and water, to create a biodegradable stretch fabric.

Trying to rethink used trainers

In footwear, Adidas has also created a trainer made entirely from recycled fishing waste from the Maldives, as well as a design for a circular trainer which can be broken down into its parts at the end of its life, melted down, and used to create a new trainer.

Adidas said it hopes to instil in a new habit for consumers to return shoes after use, which will keep materials in the supply chain for longer.

Tech manufacturers Fairphone and Framework also offered new ways of thinking about mobile phones and laptops - creating models that can be updated with new hardware such as cameras, screens and storage when needed rather than buying a brand new iteration.

Sony has also rethought its materials and packaging – using rice husks to create a porous material for use in clothing, while replacing all plastic packaging with a paper version made from bamboo and sugarcane.

Designed to be disassembled is a key theme of the exhibition, showcasing both furniture and fashion that can be broken down into parts to be recycled or reused elsewhere.

A sling chair is shown using minimal components which can be slid off and replaced when they become worn or broken, while a leather-look jacket uses laser-cut elements to fuse each part together so the entire garment can be recycled with ease.

For food-to-go retailers, plastic waste is a big issue, so designs such as a reusable tiffin box that can be transferred between cafes and restaurants offer a more sustainable solution.

Another option is Notpla – a material made from seaweed that can coat recyclable takeaway boxes. Notpla also creates edible bubbles to transport liquids and condiments.

The exhibition will run until February 20, 2022.

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