Design Museum exhibition examines how design and circular economy can tackle waste

To coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), the Design Museum has begun hosting a new exhibition titled ‘Waste Age: What Can Design Do?’, which aims to show the role of design in addressing waste.

Waste Age Design Museum exhibitionWaste Age features research funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and is part of Future Observatory, a new national programme from the Design Museum and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The exhibition also showcases a range of designers, including Formafantasma, Stella McCartney, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Fernando Laposse, Bethany Williams, Phoebe English, and Natsai Audrey, all of whom, the museum states, are ‘reinventing our relationship with waste’.

The first section of the exhibition – ‘Peak Waste’ – aims to demonstrate the scale of global waste to visitors, making the case for urgent change. Illuminating how mass production and consumption contribute to growing landfills, visitors will be able to follow their rubbish across the globe through a large-scale waste tracker. The exhibition also examines how the progression towards today’s ‘throwaway culture’, with the museum noting that 80 per cent of products are thrown away in their first six months of life.

Moving into ‘Precious Waste’, visitors are able to learn more about the raw materials used in everyday products through object deconstructions by Studio Drift, as well as other designers, such as Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Bethany Williams.

In the ‘Post Waste’ section of the exhibition, visitors can discover proposals for circular methods of production, with a focus on grown rather than extracted materials. The section features experimental designs that introduce new approaches to clothing, products, and packaging, as well as examining models of sharing, labelling, and design-for-disassembly. These solutions can help objects last longer, be repaired, and significantly reduce how much is manufactured and discarded, the museum states.

Gemma Curtin, Waste Age Curator, said:  “We must face the problem of waste – we can no longer ignore what happens to things when we get rid of them. Instead of thinking of objects as things that have an end of life, this exhibition proposes that they can have many lives. This is not just an exhibition it is a campaign #EndTheWasteAge, and we all have an active part in our future. The exhibition will show design is at the forefront of sustainable solutions.”

Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator and Waste Age Co-Curator, added: “Design has helped create our wasteful society, and it will be crucial in building a cleaner future. That means rethinking the lifestyles and materials that do so much damage. This optimistic exhibition demonstrates the energy and ingenuity being applied to the challenge – and we want it to mark a turning point. There is so much we can do, but it begins with understanding our waste.”