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Upcycling with Waste Reclaimers

Upcycling with Waste Reclaimers
Improving Urban Recycling Practices through Industrial Design and the Creative Arts

In this project, we improve urban recycling practices in Johannesburg through participatory action research. We re-contextualize waste reclaimers’, residents’ and administrator’s field knowledge within industrial design research and the creative arts. We set up an Upcycling Lab for Metal, Plastics and Paper, we develop three upcycling prototypes, we develop more effective, visual based sorting schemes for local government, and we increase citizen engagement with an upcycling community parade. In that manner, we aim to respond to the low level of effective waste recycling in the province of Gauteng, as in South Africa as a whole, where only 40 % of waste production is effectively being recycled. 

Whereas it has become common place to relate the waste crisis to government failure, policy experts also emphasize the low level of community engagement that has become intertwined with inadequate budgets, weak legislation and lack of enforcement. As (local) government increasingly hopes to transform at least a part of the waste cycle into new resources, pushing towards “smart” reuse, recycling and recovery, it will thus need to convince urban households and strengthen the position of waste reclaimers at the same time, re-imaging the waste trail from an inclusive, experimental and accessible perspective. 

During the last two decades, participatory action research and arts-based research have become viable methodologies to road-test small scale policy interventions in sustainable development contexts – exemplifying a newly emerging creative helix between industrial design, community art practice and sustainable development. When appropriately embedded within well researched neighbourhoods and conducted in a collaborative fashion, creative design and product development exercises can help to mobilise the imaginative resources of residents, waste reclaimers and visual arts students, in order to develop small scale upcycling trajectories, to instigate the intersectoral network to sustain these trajectories and to improve the income of waste reclaimers.

Coordinated by
Kris van ‘t Hof (Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp) and Gordon Froud (Faculty Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg)
with Leon Vranken and Heide Hinrichs

A collaboration between the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp and the FADA (Faculty Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg)

With the support of VLIR-UOS