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Piloting Project ReDesign

We arrive at Burlington Danes Academy, a large secondary school opposite the BBC in White City, as the stragglers rush through the school gates to get to class on time.

Here to pilot our ideas for Project ReDesign, a series of hands-on workshops aimed at inspiring young people to re-think the future. We’re all slightly nervous. It’s the first time we will have tested our ideas with the target audience.

Forty sixth form students from four schools – Burlington Danes Academy, Thomas Deacon Academy, Newstead Wood School for Girls, and Mulberry School for Girls – are due within the next hour.

They arrive confident and keen to get started. Ellen steps up and we begin. Immediately it’s clear that they’re interested. With no signs of absent minds or fidgeting limbs, they’re really focused on what she’s saying – a new framework for a sustainable future, closed loop thinking, eliminating waste….

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She shows them a plastic bag. “What happens to it when it’s thrown away?” she asks. “In fact where is away? And what happens to the bag?” Virtually non-biodegradable, often un-recyclable and clogging up landfill sites across the world, plastic is a classic example of toxic waste and loss of valuable energy and resources, in a wasteful linear system. She tells them about the millions of tonnes of plastic waste just floating around in the sea, she’s seen it! They know it too, they’re bright students.

What comes next though takes them by surprise. Ellen drops the plastic bag into water. She invites them all to do the same with the duplicate set of props on their table. In front of their eyes the bag gently dissolves. Because this isn’t a plastic bag at all, it’s actually a Harmless-Dissolve bag – a readily biodegradable, water soluble polymer, three times stronger than polythene and which completely biodegrades in a composting environment, in a dishwasher or in a washing machine. It has no harmful residues and will biodegrade into naturally occurring substances.

Why can’t all bags be made like this? And if we can re-think the way we design and manufacture bags, why can’t we do this for other products? These questions clearly resonate with the students. This simple demonstration gets them discussing enthusiastically. This enthusiasm continues throughout the day as they move onto other activities, culminating in some of the students presenting their work to the rest of the group.

It was a fascinating experience and, thanks to the constructive feedback from the students who took part in the pilot, we’re confident that we will deliver something new, thought-provoking and exciting at the first workshop in Glasgow on 1 March 2011.

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