Amsterdam-based Studio Formafantasma, founded by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, is known for their beautiful and poetic objects that range from lighting to home furniture. But the studio has taken a different direction as of late. Recently, the design duo has been applying its efforts towards tackling one of the biggest problems we’re facing today: the recycling of obsolete electronics.
“In this moment, electronic waste is the fastest growing stream of waste growing globally. Only 30 percent is being correctly recycling while the remaining 70 percent is being exported to developing countries or simply ends up in the landfills,” said studio co-founded Simone Farresin at the Fortune and Wallpaper Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore.
The reason behind the electronic waste crisis is due to a combination of neglect to responsibly recycle and a highly complex recycling system for electronics. Not only is the issue worsening thanks to the increasing number of circuit boards present in electronic products, but the fact that most copper and metal elements are covered in black rubber for safety also means that they are harder to detect by recycling systems that use imaging to identify and isolate various components by color.
“Design can be used to mediate conversation,” Farresin said. “One of the problems we had while speaking to recyclers was the need to gain the information from them to actually design. What we did was dismantle electronic products which we placed, almost as a taxonomy, into different elements so that we could speak with them about the problems in recycling very specifically.”
One of Studio Formafantasma’s solutions includes the implementation of a color-coding system that identifies recyclable metal elements and helps separate them from hazardous components. When an electronic device is opened, there is currently no universal design language to indicate which materials are harmful or not, let alone recyclable or not. Another solution pitched by the duo calls for the introduction of a labeling system that would be enforced by legislature. This system would require manufacturers to outline the shelf life of each product, rather than concealing its obsolescence, thus allowing customers to make an informed decision of whether it is worth purchasing or not.
Yet another suggestion is the creation of a digital passport for different types of plastics in the form of a QR code that will enable recyclers to know the composition of the type of plastic they are dealing with in order to properly recycle it. “A lot of recyclers struggle to understand exactly what they are recycling because plastics are being engineered daily,” Farresin explained.
Studio Formfantassma’s measures may seem simplistic, but they offer tangible. Conceivable solutions to a mounting problem of a mammoth scale. “We needed to be very pragmatic,” Farresin said about his firm’s strategies. “Rather than completely rethink the system of recycling, we chose to operate within it.”