Designing a re-use revolution
By Lucy Chamberlin of The Royal Society of Arts
Everyone has a story about bulky waste. The sofa in the garden, the mattress at the bus stop, the fridge in the parking lot.
A quick survey of researchers and staff here at the RSA uncovered a plethora of anecdotes, mostly told with enthusiastic exasperation. Matthew P suffered from a large sofa blocking his hallway that the landlord had promised but apparently 'forgotten' to remove. Jonathan R was plagued by guilt in having to take a child's mattress to the dump which was almost-new, apart from a small stain which meant that the local charity wouldn't accept it.
And these problems are not new, it seems. In a 1968 lecture given at the RSA, FLD Flintoff noted that ‘bulky refuse is a fairly new problem, but it is growing fast.' And grow fast it has. In the UK we now produce around 1.6million tonnes of this large-item waste stream every year, and most of it still ends up buried in landfill or burnt in an incinerator.
The RSA Great Recovery’s latest report, 'Rearranging the Furniture', is about our design residency project run in partnership with SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK and focused on furniture waste. The brief was to conduct an exploratory, observation-based 'residency' with four designers over ten days, gathering insights and learning from experts whilst at the same time providing ideas on how product or indeed system redesign could enable more furniture to be reused rather than scrapped. It enabled the designers to learn valuable lessons about the end-of-life destinations of some of the products they were creating, and to provide some valuable design thinking and ideation to the processes of waste disposal that they witnessed.
Re-use is better than recycling
Over the 10 days we visited a community recycling centre in Leatherhead, various sorting and retail outlets of the Surrey Reuse Network and went behind the scenes at IKEA. We spoke to experts from the national Furniture Re-use Network, the SKA rating programme for commercial interiors, and the pioneering waste team at Warwickshire County Council. And we also conducted a 'tear-down' exercise on a high street brand sofa that we fished out of the landfill skip (in great condition but missing its fire label and therefore not re-sellable by the reuse charities).
Finally, we convened a roundtable discussion between designers, waste managers and other stakeholders at Fab Lab London – closing the loop at least conversationally on our furniture waste.
And the project didn't stop at the 10-day residency. It was picked up by Camira, a UK-based textile manufacturer that wanted to develop some new fabric for our ex-landfill sofa using waste offcuts from their own suppliers. Next stop was Clerkenwell Design Week, where we got members of the public making buttons for the sofa and talked to them about the challenges of designing furniture for a more circular economy. The sofa is now on display at RSA House formed part of our display at Fab Lab London during London Design Festival, before being loaned to Camira for an exhibition in the run-up to Christmas. Meanwhile our sofa story film was picked up by the Community Channel and has been re-edited for release on national TV.
One of the report’s main messages is to stress the importance of re-use as opposed to mere recycling. According to Craig Anderson OBE, CEO of the Furniture Re-use Network, the FRN brought in over 78,000 furniture and electrical items last year, saving families on low incomes £12 million on essential goods. This is on top of the 3 million items supplied by FRN’s members across the UK that have saved 380,000 tonnes of CO2 and helped nearly one million households save £340 million on essential goods. Says Anderson: ‘If the various sectors have the audacity and scope to make the circular economy vision a reality then let’s start with re-use, and get the retailers, manufacturers and consumers involved and on-side.’
If the design model that most fits with a circular economy is one of design for longevity, then re-use is the means of extending a product’s longevity. And for a revolution in re-use to take place, designers, waste managers, retailers, citizens and authorities must all recognize the critical difference between recycling and re-use. Designers and manufacturers must create items that can be passed on, with fire labels that can’t be cut off and materials that endure.
Residents must be aware of the re-use alternatives to bringing their sofas to the dump. There must be incentives for staff at waste sites to separate re-usable goods from recyclable (downcyclable). Local authorities must ensure that re-use is specified in their contracts with waste managers. And waste managers must begin to consider their role as resource stewards, providing a platform and a service for the re-allocation of valuable items.
Ultimately all of these actors must have a view to the life time of the product itself, looking outside the narrow remit of their job description to see the chain reaction that their decisions will have.  
The RSA Great Recovery’s report, Rearranging the Furniture, can be downloaded from
eco friendly, recycling
Prefabricated modular houses: an affordable, viable solution to the housing crisis
Abby Trow, Deco editor, is wowed by BRE latest show houses

I've just got back from the BRE (Building Research Establishment) Innovation Park in Watford where I feel I've seen the future of housing.

And it looks great.. low cost, low energy, generous-sized homes that people could buy based on multiples-of-income mortgages..for which I mean around the £100-£150,000 mark (taking an average salary as being in the £25-£35,000 bracket); or which, given their cost, could be rented at genuinely affordable rents. These surely should get everyone involved in social housing truly excited.

The houses in question are called volumetric accommodation, or super duper prefabs in common parlance. That's because they're assembled from insulated prefabricated units that arrive on site fully fitted out with cables, wires and pipes, electric sockets, doors and windows, kitchens and bathrooms and walls painted and merely in need of a picture or two. And your roof can be clad with terracotta tiles that are, in fact, photovoltaics, so you can generate your own electricity (see the opening image).

The pods are manufactured in South Wales and this semi-detached building, which divided into a two-storey and a three-storey house, is the result of collaboration between Swiss not-for-profit technology company Userhuus, which is focusing on sustainable solutions for the built environment, and Edinburgh-based Tigh Grian, which develops structural insulated panel system houses (SIPS) aimed at alieviating fuel poverty.

The homes are incredibly energy efficient, being highly insulated and heated using a whole house mechanical heat recovery ventilation system, with wall-mounted electric panel heaters (no, I'm not entirely sure what that means, but think warmth...). So the aim of the houses is to give the lucky occupants very low energy bills - est £300-£500 a year - and even lower if you have the PV roof tiles. 

The exterior of the houses can be clad in different materials, so we can build social housing communities that aren't full of identical rabbit hutches a la Wimpey.

And inside, well, I was genuinely impressed. Rooms were pretty generously sized, ceilings weren't so low those over six ft have to stoop (I reckon they were 8.5ft), kitchens were big enough for a six seater dining table and if you're interested in interior design, you've got a great blank canvas to do something wonderful with. In short, it wasn't a doll's house experience.

These houses come in at around £1,000 per m2 - about half the price of a conventional brick build. So they should be affordable for many people on that average salary; and the younger generations should take comfort from the fact there are are great brains working out how they can  get on the housing ladder without having to force mum and dad to sell up and move to a caravan park for their twilight years.

Eight week build time

And another amazing thing about them is the construction time - just eight weeks from factory to completion onsite.

But...what about land prices?

But...of course, the big problem when it comes to affordable housing isn't about the cost of building a house, it's about land. Because land in Britain is stockpiled by the big house builders, councils have already sold off a lot of the land they held and the land they have they want market prices for, and landowners sit on their acres... so the price of land continues to rise. As anyone who's ever thought how nice it would be to do a little self-build in London or the South East..or South West..will know.

So until government takes action to make land affordable, you can have all the affordable high tech houses in the world ready to go and be erected in eight weeks... but if individuals or communities or housing associations, or local authorities have to raise millions for a plot, well, everything will just remain a set of drawings.

That said, we should all congratulate Userhuus and Tigh Grian on their remarkable achievment. I hope your kids and mine will have the affordable joy of living in an Userhuus when they come to want a home of their own in a few years' time.

eco friendly, eco home, self build
From loo paper to gift wrap, choose recycled paper
Tracy Umney of Re-wrapped gift wrap champions recycled paper
Recycled paper can be more expensive, yes, but prices are coming down - I notice, for example, that recycled loo paper in the supermarkets is the same price as the non-recycled.
Gift wrapping paper comes in for criticism as being wasteful, given that most of us can't wait to rip it off to get to the gift inside. (That said, I'm sure most of us do recycle it...)
I'm in the wrapping paper business so I obviously don't urge people to forgo the wrapping paper and hand over gifts au naturel, so to speak! But I think the giftwrap industry should make more use of recycled paper and we have put our money where our mouth is with our company, Re-wrapped, because our wonderful designs are all printed in the UK on recycled paper - which is of course recyclable too. Indeed we like to think we may well get the paper back from our customers at some point so we can print it with a new design.
I try to be green and my inspiration for Re-wrapped came from years of searching online and in gift shops for recycled wrapping paper. I did find some product online, but nothing at all in my local gift shops.
It struck me as odd that offices across the country were starting to use recycled paper, but the giftwrap manufacturers weren't. So after the birth of my son I began designing a few sheets of Christmas paper and found a printer who would print on the quality of recycled paper I was after.
In 2011 Re-wrapped had three designs in print. Fast forward five years and we have 23 designs and are working with some amazing artists/designers. Crucially, our papers are priced the same as most quality non-recycled giftwraps, so customers aren't faced with that dilemma of how to reconcile the need to save money and be greener in their purchases.
I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but it's worth recapping on few facts and figures:
* Every year, Britons use enough wrapping paper to circle the globe nine times - or to reach the surface of the moon.
* The production of recycled paper uses fewer chemicals and 70 per cent less energy than production of virgin paper.
* And recycled paper production reduces the amount of waste paper going to landfill and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. 
* According to environmental charity Waste Watch, for every tonne of 100 per cent post-consumer recycled paper purchased instead of virgin fibre paper, we save:
- at least 30,000 litres of water.
- 3,000 - 4,000 KWh electricity; enough power for an average three-bedroom house for one year.
- approximately six mature trees and 3.3 yards of rapidly diminishing landfill space.
art, eco friendly, upcycling
How we made a country retreat from an old lorry trailer
Paul O'Leary, director of Loughborough-based deVOL Kitchens
I wanted a place to have fun with the kids, which was the motivation for this cabin. It's near the river, close to deVOL's Cotes Mill showroom in Loughborough. It was made by me and my colleagues Phil, Dean and Josh. It cost around £30,000 all in and and took about four months to build. 
I wanted every decision about materials to be based on function, cost and ease of fit. We used the metal frame of an old lorry trailer and studwork timber insulated with rockwool and lined with membrane roofing laths and OSB (oriented strand board)
The wooden cladding is made up of green oak boards that we left outside for three months to be rained on, dried and bleached in the sun. The roof is made from ply and rubber and the edges are lined with lead. 

The cabin is roughly 390 sq ft (40x9.5). We used tongue and groove on the walls and cheap clip together flooring on the ceiling and instead of tiles in the shower, we used Corian. The kitchen was made of some unused deVOL furniture taken from the Mill. Everything was designed to take movement. How did we get water and electricity in - well, we used a water pipe and power cable running underground to the showroom. There's also an ex-Army water bowser from eBay, perfect for waste water and effluent. And yes, we can sleep there. There's a lovely bedroom with a big double bed as well as a sofa in the living room. Phil, our estates project manager, actually spends a lot of his weekends at the cabin.

You might be wondering 'What about the planning?' Yes, well I wondered about that too. I read every planning policy I could find and was pleased to find out that you can park up to four mobile homes in your garden. This was pretty much a mobile home - though there was a question as to whether this was a garden.. But I figure that as we have a house and residents and it’s all on the same title that it does count. And so far no one's come knocking to tell us to take it away...

eco friendly, eco home, garden sheds, self build, upcycling