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Daily Dump: Poonam Bir Kasturi's range of handcrafted products for home composting

Kasturi, Poonam Bir, an industrial designer by training, is founder faculty of the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Banglore. She founded Industree Crafts Pvt Ltd along with two other partners. She is also the founder-director of PlaynSpeak, a company that designs and manufactures new paradigm products. Poonam has a number of papers on design and craft issues to her credit. During her career she has designed and conducted numerous interactive workshops on issues of design, creativity and craftsmanship.




Distribution: Where the product is currently available:
The product is currently available in Bangalore city, India

What is it? Explain in non-technical terms the purpose of the project, the intended user and how it is to be used.

Bangalore – a dump?
Bangalore produces 2000 tonnes of wastes everyday. The centralized government composting plant can handle only 500 tonnes per day. The rest reaches dumps that are illegal. Till Bangalore gets a planned and efficient waste management programme, this situation is likely to continue. And the planned programme is nowhere in sight.

The story today
70% of the waste generated in the average Indian urban home is organic wet waste.

Bangalore had large houses with gardens and people composted in pits in their backyards. Now, they just throw the waste out onto the pile at the end of the road. The government tried to introduce a “Swacha Bangalore” campaign of collecting segregated waste at the doorstep. Our research revealed that citizens lost faith in this system once they saw that segregated waste is missed up again in the truck that transports the waste to the landfill site.

Home composting – is it possible?
We asked Bangalore homemakers about home composting. Here’s what we found:

  1. There are many people who have never considered composting as an alternative waste management process.

    • The perception of waste management being something that the government has to do is fairly widespread. Composting is “not my job”.

    • Add to that the concerns related to the smell and files that are normally associated with garbage… and then

    • The fear of having to do it yourself – what if don’t do it right?... And create a bigger mess

  2. There are, however, people who are interested in the idea. However, they had some questions such as these –

    • We don’t live in houses with large garden areas anymore. So how will I compost? Are there products to help me do this?

    • Where can I find information about composting that is relevant, contextual and easily available as and when I need it?

    • What are some of the common problems I could face, and how do I solve them?

So a mere product range was not the solution. This project is about the design of an overall system that would deal with products, communication, service and dissemination – using lessons from eco-sustainability.

Problem
Objective
Challenge
Many people have never considered composting as an alternative waste management process.
To convert them into “believers”.
To convince them, and provide “good” answers to their concerns.
The wide-spread perception of waste management as something that the Government has to do. Composting is “not my job”.
To get them to take ownership for managing their waste.
To make them self-driven composters, not motivated by any extrinsic reward/device. To make it a ‘cool’ activity, rather than a chore (that is cumbersome, time-consuming etc.)
The smell and files that are normally associated with garbage need to be ‘managed’
To eliminate files and adour.
To introduce new smells into process that and natural. (To gain acceptance of the presence of a few files)
To overcome mindsets, even of educated people, and to get them to believe that if managed well, this is a hygienic process.
The fear of having to do it yourself – “What if I don’t do it right?... and create a bigger mess!”
To create a feeling of being supported – that help is just a phone call away.
Strong service design and back end support material to be put in place.
“We don’t live in houses with large garden areas anymore. So how will I compose? Are there products to help me do this?
To design, manufacture, distribute and service a range of products that are
1 Functional
2 Affordable
3 Sustainable
4 aesThetic
These products must:
1 Be easy to use
2 Fit into Indian ways of    living
3 Be easy to maintain
4 Be made of simple    materials
5 Use appropriate    technologies
Where can I find information about composting that is relevant, contextual and easily available as and when I need it?
To have very visual material, that is easy to understand by our target customers and also try and make it available in different Indian languages.
To do it without being intimidating and over burdening with scientific facts. To attract readers to become users. Should cover “How to…”, “FAQs”, “Troubleshooting” and “Success stories”.

Research: Describe the scope and constraints of the effort. What was innovative or unique about the methods used and their integration with the development process?

  • Three Focus Groups (with 6 people in each) were used to elicit the perceptions of Bangalore homemakers on “waste”, “segregation” and the idea of “composting”.

  • A questionnaire was used to get qualitative information from 150 residents of Bangalore. Through these, we understood the customers’ perspective – their needs, concerns and attitudes.

  • We studied 3 co-operative projects and one large Government-run project for waste management and composting.

  • We got several insights on the composting process – what works and what doesn’t, how it works etc.

  • We created and tested prototypes, to study different materials, sizes, and configurations. Some of these prototypes were tested in homes with feedback from the users. Others were tested in controlled environments.

The feedback from this testing led us to decisions relating to size, form, material, the range of products and services.

We had constantly juggle between what scientists said could be done, what the market defined as the best process for composting, and the homemakers needs. This helped us reach our main insight and focus of our design – we were managing waste at source first and good compost was the by product. Resources: What information sources and standards were referenced. Include summary of published info that were useful in this programme with web links.

Web Links

Books & Articles

  • Manzini, Ezio & Jeqou, Francois (2003), Sustainable Everyday – Scenarios of Urban Life | Edizioni Ambiente, Milan

  • Weizsacker, Ernst Von; Lovins, Amory B & Lovins, L Hunter (1997), Factor Four Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use | Earthscan Publications Ltd, London

  • Wackemagel, Mathis & Rees, William (1996), Our Ecological Footprint – Reducing Human Impact on the Earth | New Society Publishers, Canada

  • Gulmaraes, Luiz E.C. & Steward, Fred (2001), Article: Micro Enterprises, lay Design and sustainable Innovation from Sustainable Solutions – Developing Products and Services for the future | Greenleaf Publishing Limited, UK.

What was the design solution and how is it environmentally innovative?
The solution we designed is a brand and product + service bundle.

The product is basically a terracotta container (or ‘pot’), which comes in a range of sizes and forms. The containers are designed to allow for aeration which is critical for composting. The design helps rotate and distribute volumes which makes composting at home managable. The user (i.e. the Indian homemaker) dumps the day’s organic waste into the containers, and has to attend to maintenance only once a week. The containers are modular so easy to replace if damaged. The products require less space than traditional compost pits. They are cheap and easily affordable, very easy to use and maintain, and of a form that Indians can relate to culturally.

The service component involves helping the user with the minimal maintenance that is required – i.e. help with managing files and other pests, and rotating the pile of waste as necessary.

Some of the significant aspects of this solution are listed below.

  1. The product is the ‘first of its kind’
    There currently exists no such product, which is aimed at recycling/ managing waste at source – the Indian home.

  2. The product is robust and sustainable

    1. It is ‘open source’ – the design drawings, methods, process and user feedback will all be available on the Net at no cost. This is to enable micro-enterprises to sprout and flourish in different parts of India. A centralized production and distribution system will make the solution unsustainable. Our solution will also enable the product/ design to evolve, with local needs and solutions creating diverse and incremental value addition.

    2. The manufacturing process is not capital-intensive. It uses indigenous knowledge and materials, and involves traditional potter virtually every part of this country, the process is very easily replicable.

    3. A significant part of the product is the communication materials, user manuals. Potter communities cannot produce these, but because they are made available easily to urban households (through the Net), the communication material functions as a logistics-free bridge between the producers and the buyers/ users. No middlemen are required.

  3. The service component plays to critical roles

    1. First, it helps the product to be accepted by a larger community, even the “Doubters”.

    2. Secondly, it offers opportunities to local communities, NGOs, micro-entreprenueurs to generate meaningful livelihoods.

Eco Assessment: What processes, methods were used in your assessment?

  • The product is at an early stage of commercialisation. Extensive field tests will be conducted once a critical mass is out in the market.

  • As this stage, we have conducted audits on waste generated by typical households, and how much of this is ‘compostable’. [We have found that upto 60% of the waste generated is compostable, reducing the load on the municipal system significantly.]

Materials and production; How is it made and what materials are used.

Terracotta is the primary material for the products. The reasons for this decision are:

  1. It was not capital intensive

  2. Raw material is affordable and easily available locally.

  3. Terracotta’s absorption properties solved the problem of the Leecete that is discharged in the composting cycle.

  4. The material allows for rapid prototyping and iteration. It is possible to incorporate user feedback quickly and at low cost.

  5. This product allows communities that traditionally use this material a new product range that is linked to current urban needs. It breaks the “crafts are merely decorative” stereotype. We hope that this will allow new utilitarian products to emerge – like rain water accessories for architecture, outdoor products, etc.

Aesthetics: How does the appearance enhance the product and encourage acceptance?

The appearance of the product achieves several things:

  • There is an old tradition in South India of using terracotta for making votives and granary objects. These craft traditions through hereditary dissemination have created very refined skills in production and marketing. The aesthetics of this product taps into this cultural and social paradigm. As those products served their time, this range of composters serves our urban needs now using the same materials and processes of manufacture.

  • They look good enough to want to buy and use. Composting is traditionally associated with bad odours, files and so on – it has negative connotations. On the other hand, the first response of most customers when they see the products is “Oh, I like them!, they do not look ugly, I feel like composting, I want them in my garden!”

  • Gardens in India are associated with terracotta pots. The semantics of the material imply values of “green” “back to earth” and “basic”.

  • We also have poetic traditions where the pot and terracotta are used as metaphors to describe the symbiotic cycle of life.

How does the design solution benefit the user? (Performance, comfort, safety, ease to use, quality of life, universal function and access)

It gives the user a immediate tangible method of reducing waste at source. Its not “a noble idea” anymore – it’s a “doable” thing. So it empowers and replaces a feeling of apathy with a feeling of creative solution finding.

The products are

  • Fun to buy (a bright yellow delivery van and a great service interface)

  • Effective – that they actually convert organic waste into compost

  • ‘Cool’ – in India, historically you had “lower” castes do this job – we had to make this whole task fit into a “cool” urban way of doing things.

  • Versatile – to fit various sizes of households. (Bangalore has many DINKs – Double Income No Kids!)

Products dispel the notion that composting is too much work, because of their manageable size. The comprehensive range of product sizes allows a to-be user find one that ‘fits’ her perception of how much she can handle, no more.

Business: How did the design improve the clients business? (Such as cost, profits, regulatory compliance, liability reduction, waste/ energy/toxin reduction, worker benefits, eco-recognition/certification, market penetration, higher value/ perceived quality, documented customer satisfaction, brand elevation, new opportunities etc.)

“Daily Dump” the brand we created for the client, has just launched commercial operations – so the impact of the design on the business is yet to be fully realised.

As of now, however, the client’s business has benefited in the following tangible ways:

  1. Reactions from Daily Dump’s brand creation and initial customers are extremely positive. In 55 houses in the city of Bangalore, the composters are working well – and customers have reported high satisfaction with both the form (attractive, aesthetic) and the usability (easy to use, helps me manage my waste very effectively, no files or other pests reported).

  1. Word-of-mouth marketing has already begun working. Daily Dump has at least 150 potential customers, who have placed orders and are waiting only for the communication materials to be printed/available on the net before launching on their own waste management / composting at home.

  2. The potter community has benefited from the initial orders placed on them by Daily Dump (INR 50,000 – USD 1000. This represent roughly 65% of a potter’s monthly turnover).



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