This project is a collaboration between RISD and Waste for Life, a loosely based network of scientists, engineers, educators, architects, students, and cooperatives working together to develop poverty-reducing solutions to ecological problems.
The mission is to reduce the damaging environmental impact of non-recycleable plastic waste products and to promote self-sufficiency and economic security for at-risk populations who depend upon the collection and recycling of waste to survive. Currently efforts are focused on equipping the “Cartonero” population of Buenos Aires, Argentina with a means for income generation.
The RISD/WFL studio approached this social entrepreneurship project through the design process. Fabrication and evaluation of the WFL Kingston hotpress was followed by intensive materials exploration and development of business proposals and products aimed at equiping a co-op of Cartoneros in Argentina. This exploration led a few of us to develop a consistent low density polyethylene (LDPE) material appropriate for constructing accessories as well as a fabric impregnated material used to reinforce sewn and heat-sealed seams. One result was the W4L Bifold Wallet.
Some sketching for concept development was done in the early stages, but in light of the need for clarity in manufacturing, I chose to go with a simple bifold design in order to focus on material development and contruction methods.
Early prototypes were made with a soldering iron and were less refined in terms of surface quality. Still, the results were compelling and encouraging.
After figuring out that the pedestal heat sealer was the perfect solution for the inconsistencies created by the soldering iron, the challenge was to push the material further to create a more finished product. The images shown here are of the first generation of WFL wallets completed during the studio. These wallets are foremost an exploration of surface and material appearance. They are made from plastic bags only. It was not until the second generation that second hand fabric was introduced to certain components in order to reinforce the seams and greatly increase the durability.
Inspired by the RISD Waste For Life Studio, I paired up with classmate Stephanie Retz to design a more simplified credit card holder for the Better World By Design conference. The main purpose of the design was to further investigate the process of working with individuals that are unfamiliar with these materials, and whom may not have English as their first language.
Stephanie and I were able to test a set of visual instructions at the conference with participants whom, with little or no assistance, went through the process of making the card holder. The results were great, and now, with these instructions, a video documenting the wallet making process, and sets of templates for both products, the folks from Waste for Life in Buenos Aires have begun to make protoypes.
This past Fall, Stephanie and I applied to and were awarded the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) Design Innovation Grant to continue to pursue this medium for art and design. We have since commissioned the construction of our own press which is currently up and running.
Our latest goal has been to develop a product that makes use of the equally, if not more abundant, HDPE plastic bag waste stream. The results have been promising. Along with classmate Steven Greco we have been able to develop a viable low tech method for creating two part electric guitar bodies. Moving forward we hope to continue to actively pursue this social venture with the ultimate goals of reducing waste, furthering the endeavors of the Cartoneros in Buenos Aires, and bringing green jobs to Providence and beyond.