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Designers are generally very observant: they look closely at the world around them, and they design objects, processes and services to improve our lives. The following projects by winners of the German Federal Ecodesign Award 2019 show that many of these solutions are aimed primarily at conserving resources and increasing sustainability. It’s not only their creative ideas that are impressive, but also their courage to question and rethink the world they live in.

ndion presents a selection from among the 12 prize-winners, and listens to what they have to say. The work of the winners can be seen on the German Federal Ecodesign Award website, or in the exhibition which will be touring during spring 2020.

What will our life be like in the future?

Awarded in the Product category: Wikkelhouse (Wikkelhouse B.V., Amsterdam, Netherlands)

The Wikkelhouse concept is based around three different types of modules that can be individually configured into various types of buildings. The key building material is corrugated cardboard, which is wrapped and glued around a mold in 24 layers. The resulting sandwich structure ensures good insulation and structural rigidity, while a water-repellent, vapour-permeable film protects against moisture. The entire lifecycle of the Wikkelhouse is designed with sustainability in mind, from initial production to the reusability of the modules and the recyclability of the removable lightweight components.

Three questions for Oep Schilling

Can you remember when you came up with the idea for the Wikkelhouse? How did it actually come about?

In 2012 I saw the Wikkelmachine for the first time and was utterly amazed by it. The machine looked unreal, as if it was made to be part in a science fiction movie. It was invented and created by a Dutch entrepreneur who had been working in the paper packaging industry for his whole life.

He believed cardboard was strong enough to build a house and so he did. Unfortunately the project failed but when I found the machine ten years later, the world was ready for a move towards sustainability. I saw the potential for Wikkelhouse. A house where design meets sustainability.

What was your personal high point during the development process? Was there a low point?

We definitely experienced some low points. No one believed we could do it. People did not take us seriously. But we kept going and used all our creativity to make Wikkelhouse a success.

I remember two important highlights: The first one was when our glue application idea worked and the other one was when I sold our first Wikkelhouse to the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. I was so happy after four years of trial, error and financial investments that someone really decided to buy a cardboard house. And now we have sold over 70 already!

Where do you see yourself and your project in the next five years?

I hope Wikkelhouse will set a new standard in small houses. I also hope Wikkelhouse will show people things can be done differently. If you can make a house out of cardboard, so many other things can be done. Maybe in five years we may have made only 500 Wikkelhouses but maybe 5000 young designers and makers will be inspired to do things differently – more sustainable, good design and lots of fun.

How do we help look after our seas?

Awarded in the Concept category: Marine Litter Clean-up – SeeElefant (One Earth – One Ocean e.V., Garching, Germany), Design: Günther Bonin, Dr. Harald Frank, Erich Groever, Lennart Rölz

The multi-purpose vessel SeeElefant is one part of the “marine litter clean-up” concept from environmental organisation One Earth – One Ocean. It takes plastic waste that has been gathered from the oceans by collecting vessels, and then treats, sorts and processes this with its on-board system technology. High-quality plastics such as PET are pressed into unmixed bales and stored in containers on the ship before being returned to the material cycle. In addition, the organisation’s medium-term plans envisage the extraction of oil from plastic waste.

Three questions for Günther Bonin

Can you remember when you came up with the idea for the “marine litter clean-up”? How did it actually come about?

As a sailor, I soon noticed how plastic waste in the waters damages the environment. When I was on a sailing trip, where freighters simply threw their waste overboard, it became clear to me that something had to be done about it. In 2011 I began developing the “marine litter cleanup” concept, using special collection vessels and the SeeElefant as a recycling and recovery vessel. Ten years ago I was ridiculed for being a utopian. Since then our concept has been taken seriously.

What was your personal high point during the development process? Was there a low point?

The high point for me was when a team of experts, which included shipbuilding engineers and recycling specialists, drafted the feasibility study for the SeeElefant, which had been financed and made possible by our sponsor, the Röchling Foundation. The study was completed in May 2019 and contained a detailed implementation concept for investors. Of course there are always delays, and the project needs investors in order to move forwards. This calls for a lot of persuading and convincing. But the successes outweigh the setbacks.

Where do you see yourself and your project in the next five years?

We are the only organisation in the world that can offer a comprehensive and workable method for collecting and recycling plastic waste from the seas, rivers and inland waters. I am very confident that we’ll soon see the first SeeElefant in action. In five years, OEOO will have launched other international waste collection projects and will have at least one SeeElefant in operation, which will help us present the overall concept of maritime waste collection at an international level.

How can we improve our waste management?

Awarded in the Product category: WormUp_HOME (WormUp GmbH, Zürich, Switzerland), Design: Erich Fässler, Luiz Schumacher

WormUp_Home is designed for urban apartments. The elegant, multi-layer worm composter is produced in Germany in a traditional clay manufactory. The vessel provides ideal living conditions for the worms, which recycle organic waste into a high-quality plant fertiliser – efficiently, odourlessly and cleanly. Moreover, this takes place at the point of waste creation, namely at home, in the office or at school.

Three questions for Erich Fässler

Can you remember when you came up with the idea for your WormUp_HOME project? How did it actually come about?

When I moved from the country to the city, I could no longer keep compost in my garden. But there was no way I was going to simply throw my organic waste away. That’s when I started experimenting with worms. Two other students had also been thinking about this issue, and had discovered the possibility of using worms. They were instantly inspired, and believed this to be a sustainable model. It soon became apparent that for home composting with earthworms to be accepted by the wider public, it would have to be packaged in a good design. A mutual friend, who is an industrial designer, brought us together. After our first television appearance, we were invited to present the idea to a former innovation manager. Our team was born, and we focused on creating a well thought-out, low-threshold product for composting in urban areas.

What was your personal high point during the WormUp_HOME development process? Was there a low point?

We knew we were on to a winning idea right from the start. But we couldn’t really imagine how many other people would want to stop throwing away their organic waste and start composting with worms in their home. Despite the good feedback during the development phase, we still feared that our project would end up being shelved. The product wasn’t on the market yet, and our funds from competitions were running out – that was when we hit our low point. So we went for broke and decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. The results were completely off the chart in terms of our expectations – in just one week we had received enough money to complete the production of our first ceramic worm composter. This amazing show of faith spurs us on to this day.

Where do you see yourself and your project in the next five years?

At WormUp we see ourselves as pioneers in vermicomposting – as a point of contact and source of information for all those who are looking for solutions in the field of biowaste, the circular economy or soil building. The issue of biowaste is vast, as are the associated problems for people and the environment. Everything is connected: climate change, biowaste, microplastics, packaging, artificial fertilisers, food production, agriculture, and the formation and decomposition of organic matter in soil. We want to make vermicomposting socially acceptable and show that biowaste is a diverse resource with great potential. We believe we can get people on board with this vision by presenting them with practical, well-designed and well-thought-out products. Because, not only humans do amazing shit.

How can we consume more sustainably?

Awarded in the Young Talent category: SOAPBOTTLE – Packaging made from soap (Jonna Breitenhuber, Berlin University of the Arts)

SOAPBOTTLE is a soap-based packaging for liquid hygiene products. While contents are used up from within, the container slowly dissolves from the outside. The leftovers serve as hand soap or can be turned into detergent through the addition of bicarbonate of soda and baking soda. The soap is made from natural raw materials and is biodegradable, meaning that SOAPBOTTLE creates no waste whatsoever.

Three questions for Jonna Breitenhuber

Can you remember when you came up with the idea for your SOAPBOTTLE project? How did it actually come about?

It was through my work as a packaging designer for cosmetic products that I first truly realised the lack of plastic-free packaging for liquid products in the body care sector. That’s why I wanted to explore this issue in my Master’s thesis. There are already a few examples in the food industry where the product itself becomes the packaging. In the case of ice-cream cones, the “shell” can even be completely consumed. I wondered if I could transfer this concept to hygiene products. And so I started experimenting with soap.

What was your personal high point during the SOAPBOTTLE development process? Was there a low point?

I couldn’t single out any individual high or low points. For me it was more like a journey of ups and downs, until I finally got the first prototype out of the mould. It took me a few attempts before I managed to boil my own soap, for example. I recall some particularly memorable moments visiting a soap factory, a bottling plant, a lime soap workshop, and  also talking with chemists – I learned a lot about the soap trade and how soap is made.

Where do you see yourself and your project in the next five years?

SOAPBOTTLE is still a concept. I have visualised what packaging made from soap would look like, and how it can be used. In order to really bring this concept to market, there are still few questions about material composition and serial manufacturing that need to be resolved. That being said, I am already in contact with various manufacturers and companies who are interested in being a part of the project. Because the project has attracted quite a lot of attention – it has already generated a high demand, which I hope can be met in the next few years.

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