Designers are not just ordinary consumers in the battle against suffocating the planet with litter. They are the best prevention and the last defense. Aesthetic sensitivity, retail presence, brand positioning, ease-of-use, safety, etc. are critical considerations when designing, and much more fun than thinking about the packing materials used. As important as it is to recycle and minimize waste that goes to landfill, more pressing is what gets blown away as litter. Fast-food takeout boxes probably kill more creatures than the high-fat junk food they hold. Bad typography may be annoying to read, but you never hear about seagulls strangling on overextended serifs, nor about coral reefs stomped to death by insensitive use of graphic standards. There should be life after design. Design for the afterlife. Happy Earth Month.
The village of Catuera in Paraguay is literally built on a garbage dump that grows by more than 1,500 tons of solid waste each day. The people, including children, who live around this trash heap survive by sorting and recycling the garbage.
Several years ago, Favio Chavez, an ecological technician who worked at the landfill, befriended the poor scavenger families and became acutely aware that the children who worked on the trash pile yearned for something uplifting in their lives. He decided to share his love of playing music by teaching the children to play instruments. At first, Chavez used his own musical instruments to teach them, but so many children wanted to learn that he tried cobbling violins and cellos out of oil cans, jars, scrap wood, forks and other junk to give them something to play, After about four years of experimenting, Chavez and his team began discovering which materials created the best sound. The result is a youth orchestra, now 30 members strong, that produces the sweetest sounds from their recycled instruments. Recently their story has been turned into a documentary, directed by Graham Townsley. It’s an inspiration on many levels.
Coca-Cola has gotten very good at reclaiming the containers that hold its beverages. In 2010, it recovered 400 million pounds of cans and bottles in the U.S. alone. Much of this has been converted into everything from chairs and clothes to jewelry. But building a sustainable planet demands more than reclaiming product packaging, so Coke has come out with the industry’s first 100% recyclable merchandise display racks for use in grocery and convenience stores. Made from corrugated cardboard and soon from recycled PET plastic too, the merchandise racks are the first step toward a comprehensive closed-loop retail equipment program. Coke’s “Give It Back” rack is meant to be returned or recycled to keep it from being tossed into a landfill. The recyclable rack is being tested in select U.S. markets now and should be widely available before yearend.