Today, What Design Can Do (WDCD) is proud to announce the official launch of the No Waste Challenge, our third Climate Action Challenge in partnership with the IKEA Foundation. This global design competition tackles one of the most pressing issues of our time: waste. From now until 20 April 2021*, we invite creatives from around the world to submit innovative solutions to reduce waste and re-design the way we extract, produce, and consume resources on the planet. Each winner will receive €10.000 in funding and enter a tailor-made development programme that propels their projects through 2022. 


The answer is straightforward and devastating: our planet is drowning in waste. Every year we dump a massive 2.12 billion tonnes of it worldwide. And unless we make some major changes, this number is set to increase by a stunning 70% by 2050.

At the root of this issue is our current economic model, which is based on a ‘take-make-waste’ approach, in which raw materials are extracted, transformed into products that are used briefly, and then thrown away. This pattern has a disastrous impact on the environment. From causing biodiversity loss to accelerating global warming, our wasteful economies are driving us towards a climate crisis. But if we can address the underlying root problems and symptoms of waste, we have a fighting chance at building a future that works for both people and planet. Can design help us envision new ways forward?



The planet cannot sustain our current model of take-make-waste, so we need to act fast. While we focus on redesigning the entire system over the long term, we can also make an immediate impact by buying less stuff, making more sustainable products, and reusing or recycling materials. For this reason, the No Waste Challenge is looking for design-driven solutions at various scales. Proposals should be exciting, feasible, potentially scalable, and respond to at least one of three global design briefs, exploring ways for us to Take Less, Make Better and Handle Smarter. These briefs were developed in close collaboration with STBY, a design research consultancy which has been a partner of WDCD since 2015. 

Applicants can submit their proposals via the No Waste Challenge platform, from now until 20 April 2021*.


Historically, design has encouraged over-production, over-extraction, and a never-ending quest for novelty. The No Waste Challenge asks designers to do better. “In many ways, waste is the ultimate design problem,” explains Richard van der Laken, who is creative director of WDCD. “For many decades the design industry has contributed to an extractive, polluting and linear system. This system is driven by consumerism, another field in which design — with its seductive power — has great responsibility. So waste is always linked to design: textile waste to the fashion industry, packaging waste to branding and product design, building waste to architecture, so on and so forth.”

But while design has always been a part of the problem, it can also be a part of the solution. In fact, the potential is enormous. “Designers are in a unique position to change how things are made, and what they are made of. The COVID-19 crisis has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to do so, and to open doors to radical new ideas, products, systems and services,” reminds Van der Laken. “A growing number of creatives have already taken an active role in the transition to a circular economy, by experimenting with materials and processes, raising awareness, and inspiring vital new narratives around waste as a resource. Now more than ever, the design community must step up, own up and lead.”

Pictured above: Example cases as highlighted in the No Waste Challenge brief. Pimp my Carroça (Brazil), TotoMoxtle by Fernando Laposse (Mexico) and Daily Dump (India).

Liz McKeon, Head of Climate Action portfolio at the IKEA Foundation, adds: “Waste is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. As a society, we have a tremendous opportunity to bring about positive changes for the planet by rethinking how we produce, package, consume, reuse and regenerate the things we buy. The IKEA Foundation is supporting What Design Can Do and the No Waste Challenge to bring the creative power of design to solving problems like waste and addressing the most urgent issue of our time.”   


Although waste is a global problem, the best solutions are often rooted in local contexts. That is why alongside a global track, the No Waste Challenge also offers additional tracks for participants in the following cities: Amsterdam, Delhi, Mexico City, Nairobi, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. 

WDCD has worked closely with a handful of brilliant partners — including Kenya Climate Innovation Center, Shibaura House, Quicksand and Mandacaru Design — to conduct research and develop extended programmes in each of these cities. Van der Laken explains: “To make a complex issue tangible, people must be able to relate to it, own it. That can only happen if it lands in your street, in your home, or if it is connected to your friends or colleagues. That is why it is so important to make global issues local. Also, we believe in scaling up — and that a great concept for Tokyo or São Paulo can potentially be a global game-changer.”


Meanwhile, designers in other parts of the world are also welcome to apply. In May, a jury of leading experts in design and climate action will review the entries and select a minimum of 10 winners.

The centrepiece of the award package is a global development programme which we have co-created with the expert guidance of Impact Hub in Amsterdam. Winners will receive a range of training sessions and tools focused on the skills they need to make their projects a success — from building a supply chain, to team-building and organization, finding potential clients and creating impact. Next to the development programme, each winner will also receive a prize fund of €10.000 to invest in their idea, as well as publicity and media exposure through WDCD’s communication channels.


To get started, visit the No Waste Challenge platform, subscribe to our newsletter or follow our blog for updates on the milestones of the competition, and for more inspiring stories on the thinkers, doers and makers of the new economy. 



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