Balanza Verde: Life’s Principles approach to product development

The last post was mainly about a possible long term-solution for the challenges presented by an existing waste management system in Lota, Chile. This approach will employ a well organized recycling centre – consisting of localized transfer stations – bringing formal and informal waste management sectors together and fostering education programs for the community.

But how do we get there? Let’s start collaborating with future decision makers of Lota – children.

Miki Seltzer, myself, Samantha Serrer, and Cote Casanueva with 8th grade students of Escuela Adventista and Professor Isaías Irán Barra Barra. Photo by: Camila Núñez Benítez

Someone’s trash is another one’s treasure

Since children will ultimately be the implementers of change in Lota, teaching personal responsibility for solid waste early on can only benefit the city in later years. Balanza Verde will motivate elementary school students to learn about proper waste management, take personal responsibility for the waste, and continue to manage it resourcefully when they become adults. Students will be motivated by the design to properly dispose of materials, putting recyclables into appropriate containers, and diverting waste from a landfill by exchanging art projects, and organizing funds for old toys, clothes and no longer wanted items.

Life’s Pronciples stategy in product development

UPD: An updated Life's Principles Circle from Biomimicry Group, 2011

In this post I would like to address two strategies that I have used throughout the development phase of Balanza Verde: Use life-friendly chemistry and Be resource efficient. These were also extremely helpful to me during the Life Cycle Assessment phase.

Break down products into benign constituents. Recycle all materials.

Before delving into the functional aspects of Balanza Verde, I decided to build from the bottom-up. A grassroots approach, so to speak. I noticed, one of the problems that many industrial designers face at product development stage is working out a perfect form, and getting stuck at choosing materials to fit the form.

In principle, it is important to know if the material is mouldable or formable, what form it comes in (pellets, sheets, tubes, solids, etc.), can it be cut easily, and is it easy to join to itself or other materials. Whether moulded, formed, cut, bent, or self-assembled, all materials have limitations, and the signs of the process will be witnessed in the finished products. – People Want Toast not Toasters, Brian Burns

My methodology is to work out the materials based on locality, availability, benign composition, and other properties found in nature, and only then start designing the form.

  • Monterey pine fibers – this wood is already abundantly used in construction industry of Lota.
  • Soy-based adhesive – to eliminate formaldehyde from the manufacturing process of Medium-density fibreboard.
  • Lupinus albus – Chile has the fastest growing production of lupins in the world. It is utilized by stockfeed manufacturers and makes good companion for crops that need significant amounts of nitrogen in their soil and can be intercropped properly, like squash, broccoli, and spinach.
  • Recycled cardboard – Single wall ‘B’ flute cardboard eliminates a need for extra shelving.
  • Zinc alloy recycled aluminum – Grupo Sudmetal throughout Chile is actively involved in recycling alloys, giving materials another chance at the market.

Monterey pine fibers and soy-based adhesive will be fabricated into MDF. Parts are arranged on a sheet of MDF to maximize the yield of material.

Lupinus albus will be used as a base for bioplastic Polysole TF. Solegear, a Vancouver based company was able to manufacture a translucent bioplastic that does not infringe on food crops. Canada and Lota are already establishing close partnership. Why not start exchanging knowledge?

Another alternative is a polymer produced by Novomer. The company is commercializing a proprietary catalyst system that transforms waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into high performance, low cost polymers for a variety of applications.

My methodology is to work out the materials based on locality, availability, benign composition, and other properties found in nature, and only then start designing the form.

Build from the bottom up

Localized manufacture comes with local labour to share in the creation of the wealth, and the knowledge of locally available materials, which can have a major influence on the form and design of the product. – People Want Toast not Toasters, Brian Burns

The unit ships flat and is assembled on-site by slotting parts into each other. Screwdriver is needed only during display hinge assembly.

Fit form to function and work with forces of nature

The unit utilizes natural forces, such as gravity. On the left side, containers with non-recyclable items are placed; on the right side, containers with composting and recyclables are placed. The task is to always keep the unit tilted to the right. The middle is composed of a display unit, where children can show off their art projects, and a storage for paper.

Engage, Inspire, Motivate

Engage though feedback loops

Balanza Verde allows for interactive experience: it tilts according to the weight placed on either side of the scale; and gives children feedback on how well they divert materials from the landfill through re-using and recycling activities.

Students of Escuela Adventista interacting with Balanza Verde. Photo by: Isaías Irán Barra Barra, Rendering by: Alëna Konyk

Inspire through cultivation of cooperative relationships and use of readily available materials

Garbage bins are no longer boring! Balanza Verde bridges a gap between necessity and creativity, breathing new life into seemingly hopeless items. By becoming an art hub, where children have access to cheap materials, and other art tools, the unit removes the stigma of garbage and serves to inspire, not stultify.

Students of Escuela Adventista making art projects. Photo by: Isaías Irán Barra Barra, Rendering by: Alëna Konyk

Motivate through bottom-up strategy

Introduction of Balanza Verde into the community is the first step toward the improvement of solid waste management system in Lota. Before we know it, the city will begin a transfer station program, which will allow for the recovery of recyclables before they reach the landfill. The transfer stations would enable residents to deposit their sorted waste and raise awareness about recycling. Further sorting and recycling operations, possibly carried out by informal waste pickers, would be easier and would benefit from a higher participation of inhabitants. New jobs will be created, and many materials will receive a second chance on the market, improving the economy of Lota.

Maintenance of Balanza Verde and further distribution of materials. Photo by: Isaías Irán Barra Barra, Rendering by: Alëna Konyk

Thank you!

I would like to thank Isaías Irán Barra Barra and the students of Escuela Adventista, especially Camila Núñez Benítez for giving me feedback and guidance throughout the entire project.