Is trash just garbage? We took a field trip to our local waste disposal company Sysav here in southern Skåne in order to get some answers about garbage. For a day we immersed ourselves in sustainability and recycling and this is what we learned.
A cloudy morning Zenit Design’s sustainability group stood ready at Sysav’s artificial peninsula “Spillepengen” in Malmö to learn more about the journey of trash. With a blue bus the Environmental educator Rustan Nilsson met us up for a rubbish-safari.
Trash is not a new subject for us. For some years ago we started the design process of Malmö Stads new trash bins, we have been working with nudging projects for sustainable behaviours and designed waste sorting symbols. To work towards a more environmentally friendly environment we have a sustainability group here at Zenit Design. We always want to learn more about new sustainable materials, challenges that needs to be addressed and how we as designers can design for a more sustainable future.
Sysav is a municipal-owned company from the 70's – a recycling center that takes care of Southern Skånes recycling, combustible garbage and food waste. Sysav both sorts garbage and drive a combustion power plant which makes district heating and electricity of the burnt garbage, but also selling some of it. When they sort the waste, there are a lot of things that can be reused. For example wood splinters is sold to IKEA.
What happens with the garbage we throw away?
When we drive around the Sysav plant “Buy less, borrow more” is written at many containers. A slogan Rustan think more people should follow.
- It is not the future to burn garbage, even if right now our company makes money on that solution. It’s contradictory, our combustion is so pure that it is an environmental gain if the garbage is burned here compared to if it should be burned in other places.
How good are we at recycling?
- When the economy is good, we are not as good at sorting our garbage. Especially companies get worse at it when things are going better in financial terms for them. We have noticed that better economy gives poorer sorted garbage. In difficult times people look after their money better and don’t take the cost of handing in mixed garbage.
“70% of the garbage shouldn’t even be here.”
Is all trash garbage?
– 70% of the garbage shouldn’t even be here, says Rustan. It could be recycled, reused or renovated. For every garbage bag we throw, 80 garbage bags have been created elsewhere in the world. For instance, to develop a mobile phone, the process creates up to 86 kg of junk. It’s a full grown man in weight, just in garbage for one singular cell phone. That trash is not garbage, is just wasteful behaviour. Previously tiled wood went to combustion, now Sysav can take care of it for reuse. For example sell it to businesses that makes furniture of it!
Here we stopped by the machine that sorts out metal from the combustible waste.
It's really a corky way of finding metal – we should be able to get it out in an earlier stage.
Another corky thing we learned was that we are bad at reading signs. Every year over 2 millions of lighting bulbs ends up in glass recycling – where it says no bulbs. Do we simply not see, read or care about the sign? Or is it that it’s not clear enough where else to put them? This is an exemplary example of a matter for design, to improve and solve both the system of finding metal and clearly display information in the right way.
By the unloading station for the combustible garbage we discussed a thought experiment Rustan usually asks during his lectures.
– What would happen if you would take care of all your waste by yourself? he asks. This tends to lead people to take a minute and really think about it. Often they answer that they should ensure that there won’t be any garbage. That would be the best of all worlds, not needing to throw anything away, Rustan said.
The most burdensome for the environment is the food waste, according to Rustan. It’s ten times better if there were no food waste at all than taking care of it. But since there is food waste, Sysav takes care of it by making a “slurry” of it, as Rustan calls it. The slurry transforms to biogas and bio manure. Today the bio manure replaces phosphorus recess in the mines.
What are the biggest challenges for Sysav today?
Our Service Designer Louisa asked Rustan about Sysav’s biggest challenger and how he sees the future.
– Well, as I said earlier, there are two sides of it, he answers. At the moment we want to connect and tie companies together that can be part of the change together with us. I think that it’s where the big possibilities for change are. That companies start to produce and act different than they do today, so we lower the waste ratio mentioned earlier. Sysav are the ones who will take care of what comes next, when there shouldn’t even be all that waste in the production in the first place. We are just a symptom on the problem.
"Sysav are the ones who will take care of what comes next, when there shouldn’t even be all that waste in the production in the first place. We are just a symptom on the problem."
The prettiest view during the ride was this, a martlet bird colony that moved in to Sysavs temporary gravel heap. The gravel heap is now colonised by the birds and instead of using it for the intended construction that was planned, Sysav now maintains it by adding new gravel for the birds when needed.
– Why we do it? Because we can – we are municipal, he says about their action of generosity.
“I think design can lead producers to build their products in a completely different way”
After the tour we talked about the future of waste management and consumption where Rustan said:
– I think design can lead producers to build their products in a completely different way, he says. Many companies have some environmentally friendly products, but not the entire range. It’s easy to call it “greenwashing”, but we want to state that it is important to respond to the initiative in a positive way. It's good what you do, do more of it! We all have to start somewhere.
How can we work towards a circular thinking?
We are questioning what we, as designers, can accomplish together with partners and collaborations. Can we somehow give plastic waste a new life in some way? Or can we reuse the shit of Skåne and make products of it? As designers we are involved in the process before a product become waste, and all the way from idea to implementation. How can we help?
– It would be exciting to be part of a project with a vision to reduce the waste and use alternative materials, such as new and reused materials, said our mechanical designer Stina about what we as designers can do.