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  • Writer's pictureLea Hiralal


| Yesterday, we were told to recycle. Most of us immediately recognise that green arrowed triangle stamped onto packages, telling us whether we can recycle the packaging, material or not. |

I was always taught by my parents to recycle. It was a weekend ritual to go to the ‘recycling center’. In Switzerland, the recycling system is extensive and organised. Each individual village has ‘recycling center’, called a ‘déchetterie’, where you can discard your sorted items. These sorted items are put into individual and designated dumpsters. It is mostly cardboard boxes, cans, and plastic packages, but sometimes it can be an old phone that has been replaced by its newest version. I’ve always wondered, where all these objects went, and always thought that we were doing the right thing.

I had a conversation with my mother about when she started to recycle. In the 1990’s, a few years before I was born, Switzerland start to plant ‘déchetteries’ in each village, and it became an untold phenomenon. People started to bring their children along, as did my parents a few years later, and it became a sort of weekend traditions for a lot of Swiss family.

Well, their generations were told to recycle. In the 1970’s, the idea of reusing a material became a worldwide trend, as the economical concerns for over-consumption and rise of energy cost to create new materials such as metal, came to light. This came at a time when environmental movements started bringing awareness to society’s impact on nature and people realised that there was an over-creation of materials, which was harmful to our planet. On the 22nd of April 1970, Earth Day was created.

Through a pole on my social medias, I was shocked to discover that only 80% of my followers were taught to recycle. I realised that maybe recycling is not the solution to our climatic problems, but we have rather been green-washed into believing that it is.

For me, this idea of green-washing became very clear when I moved to London to study. Living alone meant that I thought more about where my packages went and so on. But being new in the city, I had no idea what or where to put them. I was just told to put them into a different bin and my packages would be sorted out later. I was taught to sort and clean out all the recyclable items, but I never understood it. At this point, I started to research where our ‘recyclables’ went. This is where I was shook to my core. I never really sat and read about it, which seemed stupid of me at time. I believed what my parents told me, and what the government told them: “Recycling is the solution”.

It became clear that this was more about the ‘action’ of recycling, rather than caring and knowing about the ‘future life’ of our used materials, as well as about someone taking care of mess, literally, and turning a blind-eye on it.

Photo by Bas Emmen, on Unsplash.

The truth is that these so-called ‘recyclables’ are actually sent over to Asia and Africa, where they are mostly dump into oceans and rivers, as most countries do not have the infrastructures to recycle them. I felt very much betrayed by my government who encouraged and proclaimed that recycling was the solution to our environmental crisis. I felt that these packages were and are our responsibilities, but we rather let someone else deal with it. We do not see rivers polluted by plastics, or our lakes full of cans. What gives us the right to do it to other people’s lands?

Switzerland does have the infrastructure to deal with some of its recyclables, and we are told that we are ‘over-recycling’. But in fact, we are not ‘over-recycling’, we simply believe that ‘everything is recyclable’ when it’s really not. How can we, in our personal life, but also as designers, decrease this over-recycling and improve the designing industry?

This post is an introduction to how the jewellery industry has enormous environmental impacts, and how recycling influences it. Indeed, the jewellery sphere has very deep and very hidden effects on the environment. From the mining industry to the chemical releases, the jewellery’s gorgeous final form masks more than what is shown to the customer’s eyes.

But how can we change the way we design and use materials in order to protect our unique planet?

My first attempt at making a ring in my Foundation year, out of Brass.

When I first started the jewellery course, I never thought about the huge environmental impacts that creating one piece of jewellery can have. Indeed, from the raw material, to the energy usage, to the chemical releases, we can see diverse pollutions, and the destruction of ecosystems.

The main topic I want to address is the raw materials. The raw materials used in jewellery are mainly metal alloys. Indeed, most metal alloys can be recycled without altering their properties and can be used infinite amount of times. But, in my first year of study, I was never taught this. I over-used the given metals in the workshop, and simply threw them away, without the knowledge that it could be re-melted multiple times. I think it is important that, as young designers, we know how to respect and how to use these particular materials. I do believe that there is no need to dig up raw materials, as there are enough resources above ground. The facts and news about raw materials, the process of extractions and their social and environmental impacts will be looked in depth in later posts.

To end this post, I’d like to point out that recycling has some positive aspects, but we each individually need to remain responsible of the impacts of our consumption, rather than sending it half way across the world. Some materials can be efficiently recycled and with little impact, such as glass and certain metal alloys, so it is a solution to some of the issues that we are facing. But we have to rethink about materials such as single-use plastics.

In the next posts, I will tell you about different approaches to the usage of materials, both as a person and as a designer.


Recommended Books :

No. More. Plastic. : What you can do to make a difference, by Martin Dorey.

Trash Talk: An Encyclopaedia of Garbage and Recycling around the World, by Robert W. Collin

Journal de Guerre Écologique, by Hugo Clément. (For my french readers).

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