What is it that drives our problem with waste? How can we — as producers and consumers — make a difference? From September 2019 until January 2020, students from various universities in the Netherlands were invited to unpack these questions during a unique minor programme titled ‘Design for Social Change’. Keep reading for a glimpse at the results, which include reports on five key challenges, from plastic pollution, to cigarette butts and medicinal waste.



The Design for Social Change minor was developed by HKU University of the Arts Utrecht (departments Art & Economics and Media) together with What Design Can Do and design research agency STBY, as a way to engage students from various schools and disciplines with some of the world’s most wicked problems. In the preliminary phase of the research for WDCD’s third global Climate Action Challenge, about Waste & Consumerism, the students were asked to contribute by deep-diving into related themes.

Using Kees Dorst’s method of Frame Innovation, the group explored the following question: How do systems that create waste and encourage consumerism, contribute to climate change in the Netherlands? Students were encouraged to consider various starting points, like types of waste (food / fashion / chemical etc.), systems of waste (from production, to consumption and disposal), and their different contexts (looking at local to global policies).

The students’ collective called itself Oerwoud (after the Dutch word for jungle or forest) and decided to cover five different subtopics: medicine in wastewater, fast fashion, consumerism, cigarette waste and waste management. The teams recently presented their final findings.

On 6 November, five teams of participating students arrived in Amsterdam to join the WDCD No Waste Student Lab, a one-day workshop focused on further exploration of their research on our waste reality and climate futures. In this lab, they were joined by students from Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa (CFIA), Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE), and Hogeschool van Amsterdam (HvA).

The student waste lab



Team 1 chose to investigate our current habits of medicine production, packaging and disposal. They mapped various social, legal and economic factors which contribute to our excessive use of pharmaceuticals, and the amount of chemicals that end up polluting our waste and drinkwater. In terms of interventions, the team focused on raising awareness about this little-understood and often invisible issue.

Pills and pollution



Most of us know that the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. But have we examined why we’ve come to love clothing, but not value it? Or how new technologies like social media can both catalyze and mitigate the problem? Team 2 chose to look at the issue of textile waste through a social and cultural perspective, considering the psychology behind the industry.


In a similar vein, Team 3’s research centred on understanding our addiction to consumption. What are the societal values which underpin our desire for more ‘stuff’? Can we propose creative ways to expose and extinguish this hunger? These questions led to a series of short films which act as mirrors to our spending trends and habits.

On overconsumption



Did you know that 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide each year? Team 4 zeroed in on the issue of cigarette waste, designing clever solutions to raise not only awareness but a sense of responsibility among all citizens. Their intervention included an exhibition of photographs which exposed the hidden scale of the problem.

One day of cigarette waste



The last team took on an archeological approach, to better understand the complex waste management system in the Netherlands. Specifically, their research investigated how a piece of waste is typically processed, following its journey from the trash collector, to the recycling plant and / or the incinerator. The resulting map helped visualise both the bottlenecks and the opportunities within the network.



Though the minor has come to an end, the students’ research will continue on as input for our next Climate Action Challenge. The worldwide WDCD Challenge on Waste & Consumerism will be launched in September 2020, and will call on the creative community to envision a waste-free future. Together with our research partner STBY we are currently working hard on the challenge briefs — stay tuned for more information soon. Can’t wait? Take a look at our recent recap from the No Waste Radical Collaboration Lab which we hosted on the same topic.