How Ikea and HP want to help keep plastic out of the ocean

If you buy an ink cartridge from HP, some of the plastic might have come
from bottles collected on streets and canals in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti–intercepted before they could end up in the ocean. Since 2017, the
company has worked with local collectors to gather more than half a
million pounds of plastic in the area, keeping around 12 million plastic
bottles out of the Caribbean.

It’s one of a growing number of companies incorporating ocean-bound
plastic into its supply chain. Today, HP announced that it is joining a
coalition of those companies called NextWave Plastics, founded by Dell
and the nonprofit Lonely Whale last year. Ikea also joined today, and
plans to make its first prototypes out of ocean-bound plastic by the end
of 2019.

“Everybody needs to step up [to solve the problem of ocean plastic],
including business, and I see no reason why business shouldn’t be
leading,” says Ellen Jackowski, global head of sustainability strategy
and innovation for HP.

[Photo: HP]

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each
year, or the equivalent of a garbage-truck-size load every minute. One
piece of the solution is, obviously, putting less plastic on the market;
earlier this year, Ikea committed to phasing out the single-use plastic
items that it sells by 2020. But it’s equally important to find ways to
capture the flow of plastic entering oceans now, particularly in China,
Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, which dump more plastic
waste into the sea than the rest of the world combined.

HP began working in Haiti in partnership with Thread, a company that
works to turn plastic bottles into a material that brands like
Timberland have used for making clothing and shoes. The process brings
fairly paid jobs to the area and helps compensate for the lack of
municipal recycling.

[Photo: HP]

This plastic, like the plastic that flows to the ocean in countries like
Vietnam, can be challenging to work with, says Jackowski. “Most of the
waste just lands on the ground,” she says. “It makes its way into canals
and out into the ocean. It’s sitting outside in the elements. It’s
filled with mud, there’s salty air, lots of sand–very different
properties compared to what you might buy, for example, off the American
recycled plastic market.” HP now plans to share what it has learned
about how to work with the material in its supply chain with other
companies in the NextWave coalition, such as Ikea, which is just
beginning to explore how it might use ocean-bound plastics.

[Photo: Shawn Heinrick]

“We want to make sure that we test it all the way to make sure that it
actually works, and not just look at the potential,” says Lena Pripp
Kovac, sustainability manager, Inter IKEA Group. Ikea’s new prototypes
will go through its standard design process. “It goes through all the
steps–whether you can source it, whether the designer can use it,
whether it fits all of our democratic design principles. That’s what we
want to test.”

Other companies in the coalition have used plastic headed for the ocean,
or plastic already in the ocean, in products from skateboards to carpet
tiles. Humanscale recycled old fishing nets from the ocean into an
office chair.

“The key is for us as a society to see plastic as value, not as waste.
Today everybody sees it as waste. How do we drive enough demand that
people see plastic as value and not something that you want to throw
away?” says Jackowski. “Plastic’s a pretty amazing material. We’ve
gotten a little carried away with it. So how do we put in the right
processes in place in our society so that there’s enough value that we
continue to reuse it rather than create more?”

About five years ago, I started looking for a new timer to use in my
design workshops for business executives. I’d used a watch up until then
and communicated time to participants like, “we’ll stop at 2:35,” or
“five minutes starting now . . . one minute . . . okay we’re almost
done, so wrap up your current concepts . . . okay, let’s wrap up . . .
okay, let’s quiet down and share.” Repeatedly asking enthusiastic CEOs
to put down their Sharpies just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted everyone to
be on the same page about how much time remained on a given
exercise–something with a definitive end and something that would
spatially display time to concretely communicate an otherwise squishy

Then I came across the device that would quickly become my most valued
design tool: the Time Timer. It was love at first sight. In a life
surrounded by feature-packed, overly designed gizmos begging for my
attention every moment of every day, the Time Timer was the most
earnestly designed object I’d ever seen. It’s one of those objects that
is so simple, it’s easy to think that it wasn’t even designed at all,
that it just exists because that’s what it was meant to be. It’s even
called the Time Timer! It didn’t have some cute monosyllabic meaningless
name. It is exactly what it is, a time timer, and it is perfect.

I use an 8-inch timer for my workshops, I have a little one in my
kitchen, and I have a 12-inch timer on the wall right next to my monitor
in my office. It keeps me on track. Why do these work so well? It all
comes down to its physicality.

[Photo: Time Timer]

Externalized understanding

One of the most important aspects of the design process is externalizing
abstract thoughts or ideas. We sketch things out, we put them in
experience maps and service blueprints, and we build prototypes to make
these abstract things concrete. When the abstract is made physical, we
can think through the details of how they work, but we also are able to
share that understanding with the other people in the room. Everyone is
considering the same information, and there’s less room for
interpretation. The Time Timer works in the exact same way; it’s
physical and external, everyone is getting the exact same information at
the same time.

[Photo: Time Timer]

Data to information

In addition to the shared consensus of the timer being external, the
spatial representation of time makes shared understanding clearer and
more immediate. Generally when you look at a clock, you do some
calculations. The clock will tell you what time it is, and then you
compare that time to a predefined event. For example, you’ve got a
meeting at 10:15. You look at the clock and it’s 9:38–you then subtract
9:38 from 10:15 and you find that you have 37 minutes until your
meeting. When time is displayed spatially, there’s no math. You glance
over at the timer, and you immediately understand how much time is left;
it’s faster, and there’s less cognitive load.

[Photo: Time Timer]

Soft awareness

One of the biggest advantages of a spatial display of time is that it
allows you have a peripheral awareness of the time. When you’re working
on things that require higher-order thought, such as writing code, or
thinking through a complex design process, you’re holding a lot of
things in your head. Looking at the clock and doing base-60 subtraction
will immediately snap you out of this thought process. I think of the
large timer next to my desk as a “big red blob” that I can keep an eye
on without having to divert my attention from the task at hand.

Time Timer is catching on in human-centered design circles. It was
featured in Jake Knapp’s book Sprint, and subsequently included in
Google Ventures’ Sprint Kit. More recently it showed up in Jake Knapp
and John Zeratsky’s great new book Make Time. For the book, they
actually partnered with Time Timer to make a special 120-minute Make
Time Edition Time Timer, which is the designer equivalent of getting a
shoe deal with Nike. I recommend checking out the new book, and
strategically placing time timers in every room of your studio.

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