By Harmen Meinsma & Jessica de Troije
In São Paulo, a city with approximately 20 million residences, waste is produced on a massive scale. However, over 80% of the recycled waste is collected by an informal system of independent waste collectors known as Catadores who pull their handmade cars around the streets. Studio Swine created ‘Can City’, a project based in this Brazilian city, where a mobile foundry operates around the streets, creating a system where the Catadores’livelihoods can extend beyond the collection of rubbish. The foundry melts aluminum cans collected by the waste collectors, using waste vegetable oil collected from local cafes as fuel. The sandcasting molds and the finished pieces are all made on location, turning the street into an improvised manufacturing line. Studio Swine chose to make chairs as first line items. The idea is to produce customized and ‘cast on demand’ products, designed and produced by the Catadores themselves.
We analyzed ‘Can City’ using the 3P’s of sustainability – Planet, People and Profit – and made this visual in the diagram below. Our main finding from this diagram is that the project is really People – Profit based. The people collect the waste to eventually make something better out of it. By selling the products that they make, they get a 100% profit, because all the materials are for free. Eventually the planet will get a little bit cleaner, because all the materials are being recycled, but it is still small scaled in comparison to making a profound impact on the environment. Another question we had was: Could they also use another material for this project or could another material be used in the same kind of process as ‘Can City’?
From Aluminum to Plastic
We were very interested in finding an answer to this last question: Could another material be used in the same kind of process as ‘Can City’? In our research we found several projects and products that are using recycled materials, for example glass and paper. However, most of them were using recycled plastics. This is generally used, because plastic is easily found in our environment and it is easy reusable material. Also, plastic is a big risk for our environment, because of the plastic waste in the ocean and nature. That is why recycling this material is really popular in the Design world nowadays. A lot of designers try to find a solution for this pollution. We also recognize that plastic harms our environment. So we researched if plastic could be an alternative material in the ‘Can City’ project. However, we had our doubts about themelting process, because we were not sure if there would be any toxics released during this process.
To get an answer to the question if melting plastic is toxic, we interviewed one of the employees of a big plastic recycle company. The company, named AVK plastics, recycles 28 tons of plastic every day. It was founded by Niels Aage Kjær and is located all over the globe. They mostly make products for the water- and gas industry.
With the recycled plastics they make products such as pallets and ‘straatpotten’. These are usually made out of Polyamide (PA), Polyethylene (PE) en Polypropylene (PP). These three different plastics are mostly used for recycling, because they can be reused over and over again, and therefore perfect for recycle projects like ‘Can City’. Besides PA, PE and PP are easily found in our environment, for example in plastic caps and crates.
Sea Chair by Studio Swine
‘Sea Chair’ is another project of Studio Swine and is similarto ‘Can City’. They work together with local fishermen to recycle the plastic they fish out of the sea during their daily work. A lot of boaters throw the plastic waste back into the sea instead of taking it back to shore to recycle it. Studio Swine developed the project ‘Sea Chair’, which creates a new opportunity of earning money for the fishermen The project enables the fishermen to recycle the plastic directly from their boats, using the machine of Studio Swine, to melt the plastic and create their own products. Because Studio Swine is primarily focused on working with local communities and creating opportunities to make profits for the locals. In this way ‘Sea Chair’ is similar to ‘Can City’.
Precious Plastics by Dave Hakkens
‘Precious Plastics’ by the Dutch designer Dave Hakkens is also relatable to the ‘Can City’ project. He made three different kinds of production machines to create well designed products out of recycled plastic. However he had another purpose for his machines then Studio Swine. Only 10 % of all the plastics that are made are recycled. The majority of companies only use new and pure plastics, because the recycled plastics have a higher risk of damaging the machines they use. Hakkens has tried to search for a solution to this problem; therefore he developed machines that can handle impure and unwanted plastic. He creates beauty out of waste to make people more aware of the recycle problem.
In the beginning we thought that “Can City” by Studio Swine was about saving the planet. But when we got further in our analysis and research, we came to our conclusion that this project was more about making people aware of the problem instead of solving it. They work really close with the local community and give them a big role in their design process. The project stimulates creativity and gives people the chance to be independent. The downside to this story is that when a lot of people participate in this project, the profit will decline. However, on the upside the materials are still for free, so if one sells his product for €10 or for €0,01, it still is profit. Plus they help save the planet! All the projects that we found have a small influence on the waste stream in nature. However, in order to really save the planet we have to recycle on a much bigger scale. Boaters should recycle all the plastic they catch, on board or take it with them to the harbor. In a really short time, the oceans will get cleaner.