I was born and raised in Sri Lanka. After high school, I moved to the USA for my undergraduate studies. After graduating with a degree in Physics, I decided to work in technical solutions at tech startups. After working in the industry for about five years, I realized my true passion lay elsewhere.
The world’s waste crisis affected me from a young age. I used to drive to school past a mountain of waste right in the middle of Colombo, the largest city in Sri Lanka. Years of lack of proper waste management and growing waste generation rates accumulated into a massive garbage dump. As I drove past it every day, I remember asking myself, “What went wrong here?”. A few years ago, this mountain collapsed, killing many people and damaging houses around it.
The waste crisis is no simple matter because it continues to grow, every second. That is why I decided to work in the circular economy - identifying and implementing solutions to curb and ultimately eradicate this disgusting problem.
THE MEETHOTAMULLA GARBAGE DUMP DISASTER IN SRI LANKA
At the time of writing, the loss of life from the landslide at the Meethotamulla garbage dump in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is 26 people, with reports varying as to how many more victims have yet to be recovered. A press release from the Ministry of Defence in Sri Lanka, which is leading the response, indicates that 145 houses have been buried. This is, of course, the second major garbage dump landslide this year.The most informative images I have seen of the Meethotamulla landslide were tweeted by Azzam Ameen (a BBC reporter) on Saturday. They were apparently collected by the Sri Lankan Air Force. This image shows an overview of the Meethotamulla site, with the failed side of the dump clearly shown by the freshly exposed garbage:-
According to Google Earth, the dump is about 380 metres long. The image shows that the landslide is a pseudo-rotational slip that has formed a very steep back scar (further work will be needed to make this site safe before the rainy season begins). The slide appears to have engulfed houses along a large section of the toe.
This disaster did not come out of the blue. This article, from August last year, highlights grave concerns about the stability of the Meethotamulla site.
It is undeniable that this site was unsafe. The garbage mound is clearly too high and too steep, inviting a rotational failure. With houses so close to the toe of the slope, the hazards were severe. I am no expert on garbage dump landslides, but it seems likely that the decay of the waste will cause it to weaken with time, increasing the risk. In addition, in a humid monsoonal climate, the pore pressures are also likely to increase with time (as is well-documented in embankments, for example). Thus, the stability of this slope was probably decreasing even without the addition of further garbage.
This is another case in which we know and understand the hazards but fail to manage them. The results are once again tragic.
Design sits prominently at the heart of the circular economy. It requires us to redesign everything: products, business models, cities, and the linear systems that have lasted for the past centuries. This learning path covers the role of design in creating a circular economy, examining the four-stage circular design process and highlighting six strategies for incorporating the principles of the circular economy into your designs.
The circular design process comprises four stages and is informed by approaches such as design thinking and human-centred design.
Understand - Get to know the user and the system
Define - Put into words the design challenge and your intention as the designer
Make - Ideate, design, and prototype as many iterations and versions as you can
Release - Launch your design into the wild and build your narrative - create loyalty in customers and deepen investment from stakeholders by telling a compelling story
Designing is an iterative process that never finishes. You should constantly be testing and refining as you understand how your users interact with your design and how it fits into the broader system.
IS OWNERSHIP REALLY NECESSARY?
Central to the concept of circular economy is a shift from ownership to access; understanding that customers often only require access to a product for a short period of time after which they can return it to the service provider or pass it on to a new user.A host of new businesses, built on this notion, have emerged in recent years offering all manner of products to their customers on a short-term basis (through rental, subscription, sharing or leasing) rather than selling it to them forever.
REDUCE THE RESOURCE REQUIREMENTS OF YOUR DESIGNS
This strategy is all about finding solutions to deliver utility using the minimum amount of material possible. This could mean finding ways to virtualise your offering, creating a digital rather than a physical product - services such as Spotify and Netflix being prime examples of this approach. It could also mean designing your product or service in such a way that it requires only a minimal amount of physical material to create.The case study below presents a business that has drastically dematerialised its packaging materials, by employing durable, reusable containers rather than single-use packaging.
DESIGN FOR UPGRADABILITY AND EASY REPAIR
Modular design is a useful strategy for making products easier to repair, remanufacture, and upgrade. By making it easy to remove only part of a product, you make it easier to disassemble, lowering the cost and effort to swap out components when they are damaged. In the case of the iphone presented above, the modular design allows the screen to be quickly and cheaply replaced if it is damaged. Additionally, modular systems are easier to customise and therefore adapt to the variable and forever needs of users, preventing products from becoming obsolete and ensuring they are kept in use for long periods of time.