Boyan Slat The Ocean Cleanup

Leveraging the past to create the future: Part two of our Bricolage feature

Thomas Casteran Insights, Organization, Society 0 Comments

In our first part of this Bricolage feature, we explored Bricolage as a potential answer to tackle problems, and to enhance creativity through improvisation, playfulness, and experiments. However, not all the problems are easily resolvable, and often the solutions are more harmful than the actual issue. In his interview with AoA , artist Bernard Pras, explains that it is difficult to anticipate the malicious effect of innovation: “we create new products as we need it, and it is often fantastic, but there is always a negative side that one could – or not – anticipate, and sometimes the malicious side takes on the initial magic of the invention.”

By taking a look at environmental issues on our starship earth and the research for new energy sources, a clear example lies in the manufacture of photovoltaic panels. These are a great way to produce energy, but their raw materials are really harmful for the environment and highly toxic too. Yet the production output is huge and stocks are growing in some countries.  It seems legit to wonder what will happen when they become waste.

But how can we innovate without generating waste and eventually avoid malicious effects? Bricolage could be one option. By combining existing materials in news ways, Bricolage appears as an interesting alternative to the huge flow of innovative products that are based on the notion indefinite natural resources. Painter Norbert Bisky, in an interview with AoA suggests “Perhaps it could also help not to look just for new things but also for what exists and what existed but got lost”.

From Green to Blue: towards an infinite cycle

For years now the flow of initiatives to reduce waste and to aim towards a greater sustainability is growing. Governments and Organizations are implementing new policies and developing opportunities in order to develop a green economy. A green economy aims at developing greater sustainability by creating as little waste as possible in order to respond to environmental and ecological concerns. It also aspires to be energy efficient. To illustrate the efforts, we could mention the Law Grenelle Environment in France, which plans to have energy positive buildings for 2020.

Still, there is room for improvement. Also, a more realistic approach might be the assumption that we will always generate waste with our actions. This consideration leads to another concept referred to as the Blue Economy. The idea, while receiving some negative press coverage recently due to dubious business practices of some of the leading figures, is to tolerate the generated waste but to strive for ways to reuse it. Its mantra is “everything that is not needed for one product is introduced as value creating input in another process”. Hence, Blue Economy is just another way to refer to an established concept: Bricolage.

Based on this approach, a french company, UpCycle saw a business model in the famous adage, “Nothing gets lost, nothing is created, everything transforms”. Inspired by The Blue Economy, Cédric Pichart, founder of UpCycle, created an efficient ecosystem in the Paris Area. UpCycle collects coffee grounds on a weekly basis from institutions, organizations, and restaurants, in order to produce oyster mushroom. Then, they redistribute the production locally to markets and restaurants, which lowers the transportation costs and gas emissions. The process is extremely simple: it requires at first an ingenious combination with coffee grounds, shaving wood and seeds of mushrooms. Put this mix in a plastic bag at a temperature between 13 and 16°C. After 3-4 days, it starts mushrooming as the substrate is extremely rich. This installation was a good example of Bricolage practice: using materials at hands, precisely worn out fridge transporter to regulate the temperature in the mushroom farm.[3].

The quest to reduce unusable waste is becoming more and more importance. Fond of diving, Boyan Slat, CEO & Founder of The Ocean Cleanup, encountered too much plastic waste, be it in the ocean, on the beach or in animal remains… His crusade is to collect the plastic from the ocean and eventually to cross the 6th continent – made of floating garbage – out of the map. Although, the purpose seems to be different as it isn’t a research for potential input, it leads to the question: how could we take advantage of such projects and reuse the waste collected? One example comes from sportswear company Adidas who recently came up with a pair of sneakers entirely made from ocean plastic trash. Based on the same raw material is the denim collection, initiated by Pharrelll Williams in collaboration with the dutch fashion brand, G-Star Raw. While noteworthy examples of dealing with existing resources usually referred to as waste such concepts did not make it into mainstream practice yet – but who says they cannot?

Designing a sustainable environment with at-hands materials

Bricolage can be a strong catalyst to design Blue Economy cycles as it makes use of prior experiences and available resources. It is about finding suitable solutions with what is there. Considering the waste as available resources and input for new creations is a challenge, but it is not impossible.

Arthur Potts Dawson, an English chef, emphasized this concept, in a 2010 Ted Talk: A Vision for Sustainable Restaurants, when he opened his restaurants where ‘waste (is) the end of the beginning’. His restaurants use environmental elements at-hands such as the water from the canal and wind to regulate the temperature via an ingenious system. Both restaurants are stuffed by recycled furniture such as chairs, tables and pillows. Dawson went even further by enabling clients to choose the amount of food they want in order to reduce the waste generated to the minimum. For the rest, he installed containers to compost the food wastes in order to generate fertilizer to grow vegetables for the restaurants.

Instead of continuously giving more credit to novelties and innovations, we should more often consider Bricolage. Designing sustainable solutions with already existing products would reduce malicious effects of innovations, and at the same time, lower the global generated waste. Bricolage might be the key regarding growing considerations  and increased need for green, blue and other practices.


Find out more about the process of UpCycle, here.

Picture Source: The Ocean Cleanup Project

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