Designing for Humanity: New Possibilities for Plastic

Haley Lowry

Published 36 minutes ago.
About a 5 minute read.

Image: Matrix 4 artist in residence Eric Heubsch turns ‘waste’ into art | Matrix 4/Instagram

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Ensuring recyclability starts with putting people at the forefront to develop new systems and materials to create a continuous lifecycle for plastics. We need to design systems for humanity. By harnessing design thinking, it’s possible to
make human-centered recycling systems a reality.


This weekend, we recognize World Environment Day (June 5) to raise awareness
and action around protecting our ecosystems from waste, pollution and more. Yet,
materials such as plastic could be unlikely allies for creating a more
sustainable world for people and planet. Here, Dow’s Global Sustainability
Director, Haley Lowry, shares how design thinking can pivot people from seeing
plastic as a problem to viewing it as a dynamic, recyclable material with
countless possibilities.

Recycling is complicated. A complex web of value chains, local governments, and
informal and formal economy players often makes recycling a confusing system for
many people.

Yet, people are the cornerstone of making the recycling system work. Consumers
are the catalysts for driving the increased demand for recycled goods, as well
as ensuring there is enough recyclable material in the supply chain by properly
sorting and disposing of their waste at home.

Ensuring recyclability starts with putting people at the forefront to develop
new systems and materials to create a continuous lifecycle for plastics. We need
to design systems for humanity. That’s why I love design thinking, which is
problem-solving through a human lens. By harnessing design thinking, it’s
possible to make human-centered recycling systems a reality. To get started, I
recommend thinking through these three main tenets:

Cross-collaboration: Connecting different industries, cultures and experiences

Cross-collaboration is key to unlocking new ideas through inclusive
problem-solving. Dow focuses on partnerships across
supply chains and communities to create solutions that address plastic waste.
Collaboration is also critical to behavior-change programs that aim to educate
and encourage action for recycling in local communities. At SXSW, panelist
Ryan
Hollinrake
,
founder of the Great Sea Project, shared the
great work his organization is doing to reduce ocean plastic pollution through
community education. They’re currently focused on the Caribbean, where
recycling programs are scarce.

Thanks to Ryan, we were introduced to a creative innovator in the sustainability
space, Briony Douglas — an artist working on
creating a shoe from recycled plastic caps. In fact, Dow — with help from our
customer, Bericap — provided these caps through our
Recycling for
Change

program. The beginnings of Briony’s awesome work can be found
here.

Empathy: Putting humanity first to understand different points of view

Leading and learning with empathy is essential for building solutions that work
for diverse needs and people. A designer has the power to create an emotional
response from a consumer; influence behavior; and ultimately, change the
discourse of how we work, live and play — which is critical to modern life.

Designers need to be able to test solutions and learn from them quickly — they
must have the courage to fail fast, and often, to truly reap the rewards of new
successes. Another SXSW panelist, Patricia
Miller
, CEO of Matrix
4
, understands the importance of empathy from design
to market. Led by her creative eye for design, her organization is reimagining
“waste” and converting it into art, blazing the trail for design manufacturing
while creating an emotional connection between people and everyday
materials
. Matrix 4 is also focused
on optimizing the value of plastic by exploring traditional resins to
bioplastics and up-cycling opportunities.

Action: Bringing to life fresh, innovative solutions through investments in human-centric systems

Ideas that put people first are necessary not only for redesigning products that
consumers demand, but also reimagining our infrastructure in local communities
and at scale.

Did you know that the US has more than 10,000 recycling programs alone? The US
recycling
system

is incredibly fragmented — which is confusing to consumers in terms of how to
recycle, as well as to NGOs and businesses that are looking to design solutions
at scale. And that’s where government could play a key role by investing in
national frameworks that create streamlined, human-centric recycling systems,
while also updating local infrastructure and
manufacturing
.

Europe’s Green
Deal
,
for example, is laying out some progressive targets. Through specific extended
producer responsibility (EPR)
systems
,
the Green Deal incentivizes the drive for recyclability — which goes back into
infrastructure investments. Businesses such as Fuenix Ecogy
Group

in the Netherlands and Dow’s latest partnership with
Mura

in the UK harness these manufacturing investments to drive material
innovation in plastic waste
reuse
.
Advanced recycling technology can process a wider range of plastic types —
including multi-layer, flexible plastics used in packaging, which are currently
harder to recycle and often incinerated or sent to landfills. Ultimately,
advanced recycling manufacturing and technology reduces complexity in the
overall system, making it simpler for consumers to participate.

If we redesign recycling in these human-centric ways, it is possible to catalyze
new systems and materials to create a continuous lifecycle for plastics. Through
this lens, plastic is transformed from something that’s problematic to an
opportunity that redefines what’s possible for consumers, products and our
planet.

To learn more about designing for
humanity
,
check out Dow’s Pack
Studios
,
where packaging is being redesigned with people — and recycling — in mind.

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