Can we ‘end the waste age’? The Design Museum presents some satisfying, and encouraging solutions to the appalling and polluting impact of plastic and our wasteful approach to living which has endangered the planet.

There was a time when plastic was regarded as the answer to everything. Why wash up and put away when you can chuck that glass/plate/dish in the bin and not worry about it. Remember that scene in The Graduate when young Benjamin is told the secret of success in just one word – plastics? We might have chuckled at it decades ago but now we shudder.

The exhibition, Waste Age: What Design Can Do? at the Design Museum shows us many of the good things which have been made from plastic and still work well for us but oh dear, when you see the images of choked rivers, landfill swelled with plastic rubbish and acres of the world scarred by the careless dumping of waste material. We all hang our heads in shame.

But, the heartening aspect of this exhibition is that designers are coming up with solutions. I enjoyed hearing the optimistic views of creatives and innovators who regard all waste material as an opportunity for creating new uses. “They’re just molecules” And you can use molecules in so many ways.

There are some great examples of what can be done too. So, we have waste product from the production of sugar beet being turned into a material which can be used for building. The husks of corn can be made into a kind of wood veneer and there are clever things to be done with fungi and strange mushroom materials which can be grown.

This is good. I felt a lot better coming out of the exhibition than I did in the first half when faced with all that’s wrong about human behaviour. However, no matter how clever the designers and innovators are, their ideas still have to be taken up by the big manufacturers and retails and, as consumers, we’ve got to DEMAND that what we purchase is no longer bound up in plastic wrapping, sealed up in unnecessary layers of packaging and not made with a built in obsolescence to ensure we will need to buy more.

The exhibition is a little bit worthy in places but we need to be bludgeoned into awareness of our wasteful behaviour and, I hope, we’ll all start to use what exists already with more enthusiasm and not constantly demand the shock of the new – perhaps make do for a bit and mend the world.

And, as a little postscript, as a paper enthusiast, I did enjoy the stitched paper bags by Celia Pym. She took a variety of paper bags used for her shopping and carefully mended each rip and tear. Lovely stuff!

#EndTheWasteAge is on at @DesignMuseum from 23rd October to 20th February 2022

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