About This Live Project

Sheffield Homes is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) set up and owned by Sheffield City Council to manage council housing in Sheffield. As our client, Sheffield Homes offered us a list of potential project briefs for us to choose from, all of which deal with important issues and concerns regarding the current council housing stock in Sheffield. Our group decided to embark upon developing innovative solutions to address the important issue of waste disposal in flatted council estates. Our hope is that our efforts can offer strong design initiatives on the topic whilst creating awareness and incentive on the importance of recycling and proper disposal of household waste.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Sheffield Homes Interview


"This is Friday 17th October and these are the headlines from our meeting with Zoe Barlow and Ian Robertson at Sheffield Homes":
  • Fly-tipping is the most significant problem on flatted estates and puts the greatest strain on Sheffield Homes’ resources.
  • The perceived solution to fly-tipping is an upgrade to infrastructure. The current system was designed in the 1950s/60s before ‘black bin’ culture arrived.
  • The majority of tenants dispose of their waste in an appropriate manner, only a minority do not. In a recent survey over 60% of Sheffield Home tenants expressed a desire for recycling facilities.
  • Recycling is not just a ‘nice’ idea, but regarded as having the potential to relieve strain on black bin waste and thus improve the efficiency of the system.
  • Differences and disparities in building types and waste disposal provision mean the system is complex and not easily comprehended (Refer to the rough diagram above, which Zoe and Ian gladly helped us create!).
  • Finally, one idea that Zoe had was to introduce a scheme whereby children on the estates assist elderly residents in disposing of their waste. This would help tenants for whom mobility was a problem, but children could also act as ‘educators’ and ‘enforcers’.

[A full summary of the interview (Compiled Q&A) will be posted earlier next week on archstud, we recommend all members give it atleast quick read]

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Ownership of 'waste'

With reference to the brief issued by Sheffield Homes, the majority of problems on the flatted estates derive from inappropriate use of the system by residents. The present system relies on 'good will' and the 'moral obligation' of tenants to dispose of their waste in an appropriate manner. But... what if residents had something to gain from ensuring waste was disposed in an appropriate manner? How can the 'default' be changed? An interesting issue to consider is the 'ownership' of the waste.

The system is complex and we are yet to fully understand it, however, it seems reasonable to assume that a fair amount of money is spent by the council on 'cleaning-up' after residents and by Veolia in sorting and separating collected waste. If the tenants took a more active role in sorting and properly disposing of waste then there is a potential cost saving somewhere. If this saving can be passed onto the tenants then hey presto there's the incentive! This could work by offering the tenants [dis]integrated waste management contracts, direct agreements between the tenants and Veolia. Sheffield housing would relinquish 'ownership' of the waste and instead tenants would 'own' the waste up until the point that Veolia collects.

The disposal and storage of waste on the estates would need to be designed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Open Source / Collective Intelligence

See-through recycling bins in Tokyo exploining collective intelligence of passersby (in this intance to increase security in underground station... but perhaps the same principle could be adapted/pushed to 'change the default' in waste production/disposal)

From "Open Source Garbage" - post from John Maeda's blog Law of Simplicity http://lawsofsimplicity.com/2006/11/11/open-source-garbage/

Progress (aka A Nice Diagram)

Well... welcome to Week 3.  This is how our project is looking at the moment: brief, timetable et al.  In one sentence, the Sheffield Homes Project is looking for a new (default) system of waste disposal (which improves on the current one).  Having met through the last few weeks as a full team, worked through forming a brief with our clients, and researched types of waste management and recycling systems individually, the Sheffield Homes team has now split into several action groups, working towards different but complimentary objectives:

1.  Current Housing Stock Research
2.  System Research
3.  Client Liasion and Diagrams, and,
4.  Field Action

Exciting indeed, some promising results in the offing...


Lets bring Art Attack to Lansdown!....well not art so much as rubbish.
We could choose an area in one of the courtyards...(preferably a flat area which can be seen well from one of the balconies)...and encourage residents to bring down their rubbish to help complete our picture (I'm thinking we go for something simple like the recycling symbol).
As we sort the rubbish, we could use all recyclable objects to create the picture to communicate just how much of the resident's waste could actually be re-used.
We could bring 'delight' to the act of sorting and recycling....whilst also providing ourselves with the opportunity to ask the residents questions about their waste system and also their views on recycling.
It might also be worth asking the resident's who 'donate' which part of Lansdowne they come from...we could then map out the 'flow' of the rubbish....this information could then be fed into our larger waste diagram which will then be passed onto Sheffield Homes.
We would obviously recycle all materials at the end of the day ^_^

Default Architectures Contd.

"The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that creates the situation."  Albert Einstein.

Packaging = Waste

A substantial amount of the waste we throw away is packaging. In fact, according to the government, 18% of the contents of your bin is packaging from purchases. A 2007 survey from the research company Ipsos Mori revealed that, 62%of customers want to see less packaging on their products and 67% want more recyclable materials used for packaging.

Parallel to this is the Coutauld Commitment, which a voluntary agreement between WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and major UK grocery organisations to support a reduction in the packaging of their products. Specifically the goal is to deliver absolute reductions in packaging waste by 2010. Included in this agreement are Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Energy Recovery Facility - Sheffield

Following neatly on from my earlier video post on the processes/systems involved with typical Energy Recovery Facilities managed by Veolia (the example was based in Hampshire)... Please click the link below for a little flash slide show on our very own Energy Recovery Facility - its only two years old for those of us who didn't know!

Sheffield - ERF

Default Architectures

Default –noun
1.failure to act; inaction or neglect.
3.Lawfailure to perform an act or obligation legally required, esp. to appear in court or to plead at a time assigned.
6.Computersa value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.

Design is always political...
 ...even if we're not always aware of it. Even something as mundane a door schedule contains all sorts of political decisions about privacy, ownership, exclusion, status, behavior. At the same time though, design is not the same as politics. As Buckminster Fuller argued - 'Redesign the environment, don't redesign people.' There are a number of instances where 'political' tactics (e.g-advertising) are used to alter behavior as a substitute for changing the system. Politicians tell us not to fly on holiday - a designer might instead develop a zero-carbon means of intercontinental transport.

The 'Recycling' Myth
'Recycling' too falls into this trap. The conventional wisdom is that we need to use advertising campaigns and incentives to persuade people to recycle. But that may well be because we see recycling as something 'extra' we expect people to do above and beyond getting rid of their waste. Hardly anyone needs an incentive to get rid of the waste - we just want rid of it. 'Recycling' is only seen as a separate, extra activity if it requires more time, more effort or more money on the part of the consumer. That's not a political problem - that's a design problem. We haven't integrated 'Recycling' into the the design of waste disposal system, so it takes political persuasion to make up for the shortfall in design.

'Choice Architecture'
A book I'm reading at the moment (which I would recommend to everyone), 'Nudge' by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein looks in detail at the design of the environments in which we make decisions. Skirting sensitively on the edges of social engineering (what it refers to as 'Libertarian Paternalism'), its basic premise is that there is always a 'choice architecture', whether we choose to design it or not . Businesses use choice architecture to exploit us ("Would you like to supersize that?"), so why shouldn't we use choice architectures to bring about more socially-beneficial outcomes? The 'default' option is the one that people conform to when they don't think about it, so if you want people to behave in ways which are better for the health, the environment or society, don't try to persuade them to put effort into doing it, but try to design the system until the 'correct' course of action is the default - the easiest.

A good example I heard about recently has been pioneered by Gateshead council, who rather than spending money on advertising campaigns persuading people to lower their salt intake, supplied local take-aways and fish & chip shops with re-designed salt shakers, with 5 rather than the usual 17 holes. This works because we don't gauge the amount of salt we take on the plate with our eyes, we just habitually give it 2 or 3 shakes. By and large no-one notices that the chips are any less salty. The important thing is that the salt shakers don't prevent you from eating salt, but by tuning the default downwards, improve the health-outcomes of those of us helping ourselves to salt on auto-pilot.

"Add more bins"? - Questioning 'Black Bag' thinking.
In the case of waste disposal, "recycling" is intrinsically
ungenerous. We have to take the effort to handle our 'recyclable' goods in extra bins, we have to drive it to the supermarket (assuming we own a car), we have to remember to put the right bin out on the right day. When a council introduces a new recycling programme, they introduce another bin (resulting in a sort of 'bin rash'). In short: Recycling is hard work - you have to believe in it. No wonder it's almost exclusively a middle class phenomenon.

We need to see recycling not as an optional extra that relies upon ethical sacrifices, but as
the default. Not as an extra on top of waste disposal, but rather an evolved, more sophisticated version of the 'Black bag: Shove it all in one bin' model, which is now outdated. If we look hard at our household 'waste', we know that most of it can be recycled, and there's not much 'black bag' (unclassifiable) stuff left at the end... so recycling is not adding waste but subdividing it.

It might turn out on the long run that we can make other improvements to the waste disposal service. Eliminating costs on our time such as having to remember to take out the bins?...or the smell of keeping them around?...or the noisy bin men at 7am on a wednesday morning?...

growing vegetables and keeping animals, some links

(image from Flickr http://flickr.com/photos/hippie/2451461151/)

If we are going down the route of exploring an integrated, uber-local, waste processing and management as indicated in Sarah's latest post, then it's worth looking into PERMACULTURE.

There is a good intro to permaculture on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture.
There is also a 26 min video, the Quiet Revolution on http://www.21paradigm.com/permaculture.php

More Permaculture Links:
Permaculture Association (Britain) http://www.permaculture.org.uk/default.asp
Permaculture Institute http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/classroom/. From this website, the link to the Polyface Farms http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ where various species of grazing animals, including pigs are used to maximise soil fertility.

Looking into Urban Farming might also provide useful references & examples http://www.cityfarmer.info/. Look at the England section http://www.cityfarmer.info/category/england/

In Sheffield, Heeley City Farm http://www.heeleyfarm.org.uk/ has been active for a number of years, doing a range of interesting projects. One of the things they run is 'apprentiship'/volunteering programs for local kids to work in the farm. If you have never been there it is really worth a visit to see how kids (largely teen agers) that would normally fall into the 'difficult' category, appear competent and empowered through working in the farm.
Perhaps it is worth exploring the possibility of linking any waste management/processing intervention proposed with training programmes.

It would be interesting talking to Heeley City Farm to find out more about those training programs as well as the management of animals on urban sites. Perhaps they would be interested in running/coordinating satellites mini farms base on various estates....

It is also worth noting that Sheffield is currrently try to become a Transition Town http://www.transitionsheffield.org.uk/.

"The Transition Towns movement aims to
find positive community-based responses to climate change and the end of cheap

Tonight (14th October) there is a screening in Burngreave of the film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.

Monday, 13 October 2008

recycling ideas

Some little things serious or less to show people that there can be a second life for old stuff

Symbols and Colour and Direction - Oh my!

Following our visit to the Lansdowne council flat estate, I began to consider the issue of visual monotony apparent when walking between blocks. This becomes more so apparent when you notice that objects such as the typical bright blue Paper/Cardboard recycling dumpster become strong objects of the foreground (see below).
After a brief consultation with the estate waste collection workers, we learned that these bins are in fact frequently used - despite our initial suspicions.

Therefore I
hypothesised a likely connection between strong colours and symbols and how our brains make connections between the two -instinctively over time. This could potentially lead to exploiting means of offering directional clues, some subtle or perhaps full on, to allow for easy navigation to a new systems/bins for recycling/waste disposal (see below).

Go on, Chute!

SB sketch one

What would a residential waste/recycle plant look like?

Is 'back to nature' the way forward?

Perhapse we could focus on the recycling tube system for the purposes of this live project
....but there is nothing to stop us drawing up a 'What If' masterplan.

Two ends of the spectrum - Preliminary thoughts

Considering the cheap/economic end of the scale;
Above image shows additional chutes being added, each one disposes of a different recyclable product...

Tenants have expressed their 'fondness' of the chutes, is this the most practical, affordable solution? To what extent do we 'patch and repair' these chutes? If we re-design the current system of waste disposal will that dictate a re-design of the application also? Can the chute technology cope with a more diverse waste system?
To what extent do we take this??

Considering the expensive end of the scale, an ambitious scheme on a Master Plan Scale;

A system from Envac which employs underground chutes which use natural air to suck the deposited waste along the lines at 80kph to a large waste management centre, each recyclable product is separated at the user end and then is systematically sent to the centre.
A 'slightly' more realistic option which shows a communal location storing the waste until a truck can come and 'suck' up the rubbish, the master scheme tries to eliminate road traffic by eliminating the need for these trucks...

Perhaps our solution will be something in between the two extremes that have been highlighted here?