More than 500,000 people in Indonesia attempt to make a living collecting and reselling garbage. Artist Ann Wizer lived above a colony of these trashpickers and inquired about what waste they could not sell: plastic drink pouches and other non-biodegradable plastics. Wizer began purchasing these scraps from the trashpickers and using them to create bags, book covers, and other products. Not only does she produce a useful, well-designed and beautiful product (everyone who sees the bags loves them), she supports trashpickers, creates jobs for the Indonesia’s poor, utilizes landfill-bound trash and educates all who come into contact with her products and operations about consumption and waste.
“Why are people still accepting products that end up in a landfill? ” Wizer asked, “We shouldn’t have them. Our task at hand is to find ways to keep these materials out of landfills by reusing them. I am not interested only in upcycling or making “sympathy” products – I want these goods to be fabulous, they need to be able to compete in markets.”
Wizer was saddened by the way corporations use South East Asia as a dumping ground. “Companies do whatever they need to according to law and developing countries generally don’t have decent environmental protection,” she said. An artist, Wizer launched the XSProject initiative as an art exhibition in Jakarta. “The show got a lot of press. But I was despondent after – here I am talking about poverty, corporate abuse, lack of awareness, education but I felt I was talking to the wrong people. That culture audience was not involved with any of these issues.” That’s when she decided to work with the poor directly.
“If people are desperately poor, they will abuse their environment. They have no choice…we started by picking up non-recyclable waste and training poor people to make new things out of waste.”
The XSProject is one of the threads at SoCap09 that I’m most excited about. Although this triple bottom line operation may sound dreamy, it hasn’t been easy and Wizer hopes to make valuable connections at SoCap.
How do you scale such an operation? XSProject is currently a non-profit, but they’ve had no outside funding or grants. Wizer is an artist, not a business women, and is coming to SoCap to rethink the business model and find partners and investors that can help her transition XSProject into a sustainable business that also creates environmental protection and poverty alleviation. “There have been 200 people involved in XSProject, but no community to brainstorm with,” Wizer explained. At SoCap, Wizer will have the opportunity to learn from seasoned business people, such as Mark Dwight, Founder and CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks who has experience scaling a bag business.
SoCap attendees will receive an XSProject bag made from billboards (see left). As conference convener Kevin Jones explained in an email, the XSProject thread will include “everybody who comes to Socap09 in a design project where they rethink their connections to stuff, to people, to poverty and to waste and justice.”
Wizer said: “My work, my practice is about finding solutions to problems in a broader way than I could within the art world. More people will use bags from waste than they will buy art from waste. A new consumer product from old consumer waste educates the public about our obvious problems in manufacturing and unsustainable design…and also about the populations who live from picking and reselling waste.”
Photography copyright Elizabeth Finlayson [firstname.lastname@example.org], supplied by XSProject Foundation