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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: These Cradle-to-Cradle Innovations Stop Waste in Its Tracks

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

“Designers have a pivotal role to play in driving long-term solutions that circumvent the concept of waste in favor of materials that can remain in a perpetual cycle of use and reuse," Lewis Perkins, president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Institute, wrote in a prompt for its third design challenge.

Sponsored by the Institute and Autodesk, the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge seeks to inspire up-and-coming designers to create products for the circular economy — highlighting safe materials that can be perpetually cycled.

A total of 138 design professionals and students in 19 countries worked as individuals or in teams to submit 79 entries for the contest. Participants were required to take a free two-hour, online course about designing for the circular economy, made possible by a partnership with the Alcoa Foundation, prior to entering the challenge. So, even those who don’t win will still walk away with an increased knowledge of cradle-to-cradle design.

"From retail packaging to human shelter, the Spring 2016 Challenge winners are outstanding examples of the way young designers and design professionals alike are stepping into the crux of this revolution, using Cradle to Cradle principles to pioneer ideas for innovative materials applications and, in turn, the circular economy,” Perkins said.

So, without further ado, here are the four winning designs from this year's challenge. Read on to be inspired -- and start reimagining what you consider waste.


Winner: Best Student Project

Millions of pairs of shoes end up in landfills each year, where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Quang Pham, a student at Virginia Tech, created a modular sneaker in response to this problem.

Made with bamboo, wool textiles and recycled PET fiber, MODS consist of five modular units that use the minimal amount of material needed for maximum comfort and security. Even better: The user retains full control of the shoe’s aesthetic and functionality. MODS shoes can be customized and updated to change up the style, as components begin to deteriorate, without using glue.

Because the shoe can be easily disassembled, cleaning is a breeze. In Pham's vision, component parts could be sent back to the manufacturer for recycling at end-of-life, in exchange for a discount on new parts.

Banana Stem Fiber Packaging

Winner: Best Professional Project

Colombian designers Brayan Stiven Pabón Gómez and Rafael Ricardo Moreno Boada wanted to transform a geographically abundant material into sustainable food packaging. The result is this compostable packaging concept made from banana stem fibers.

Bananas are farmed across several regions of Colombia, yet farmers perceive banana stem fiber (extracted as part of routine crop maintenance) as waste.

Drawing upon traditional food preparation methods, Banana Stem Fiber Packaging offers a sustainable alternative to plastic and paper food packaging, along with the potential to generate sustainable economic development in farming communities, the designers said.


Winner: Best Use of Aluminum

Developed by designers Malgorzata Blachnicka & Michal Holcer, Huba is a self-sufficient, compact mountain shelter that is able to generate its own energy. Huba also offers a potential solution for other housing applications, including helping homeless populations or the provision of emergency shelter, the designers said.

Huba’s design is based on traditional alpine architecture, with its small size and choice of materials aimed at minimizing its impact on the environment. Intended to be located above 3,200 feet, the shelter is equipped with an effective vertical wind turbine.

The energy produced by the generator is stored within a battery and is used to supply the building’s heating, lighting and water pump. Specially arranged roof tiles enable rainwater to easily be collected within the tank, which is then filtered and safe for drinking.


Winner: Best Use of Autodesk Fusion 360

It seems Virginia Tech isn't messing around when it comes to educating designers about the circular economy. Another VTech student, Claire Davis, came away with the win for the best use of Autodesk’s Fusion 360 3-D printing technology.

Her design, the OLI, is a convenient, elegant and intelligent solution for food waste. The food scraps collection bin creates a pretty and elegant at-home composting experience. It's also made entirely from sustainable materials like coconut shells and recycled PET bottles. And it can be disassembled for easy cleaning, reuse and recycling of component parts.

Images courtesy of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni