Cities are potential engines of the transition towards a circular economy. The City of Amsterdam is one of the early adopters of the circular economy concept at city level. Closed loops, value generation, innovative business models, and modular designs – those are not only principles to guide the transition to circular cities, but also principles distributed designers have been working with for years. In our series Distributed Design for Circular Cities, we introduce you to some of the creative talents making an impact. In this episode, we interview Alex Terol and Pedro Sáez who set up their own research studio for circular design in València.

Can you give us a description of your project?

Comp-on! is a project which facilitates local composting and encourages learning about Circular Economy principles and how composting works. The main objective of it is to create environmental awareness and teach citizens how to take advantage of organic resources and reduce their waste. Comp-on! is a prototyped design which illustrates the methodology we are developing right now as part of our Master thesis Circular Economy and Sustainable Development, in which we research how we can implement design in circular and social innovation in the private and public sector.

In what way is your work contributing to circular cities?

A project like Comp-on! can have a big positive impact on cities. València, the city in which we are located, is (although someone could think slower than required) moving to a transformation of our economic model towards a circular, sustainable, resilient, inclusive, and social model. Next year, València will be designated as World Design Capital 2022, as the eighth city in the world. That makes our research really relevant at the moment. What we are missing here is a strategy towards design, and how we can make that a main agent for social change and urban innovation. There is a unique opportunity to empower designers to add their innovative power to improving our quality of life.

What drives you personally to work on this project?

Alex: As a kid, I wanted to become a biologist – I’ve always had a sensitivity to nature. I am surrounded by mountains, and we went camping a lot. But growing up I started to like creativity and product designs, so I chose a design profession. The noticeable effects of climate change triggered something in me. My work experience at Amsterdam-based FROLIC studio made me realize I don’t just want to design, but also want to create a positive impact on society. I found my Ikigai, which is a Japanese term that translates loosely to ‘reason for being’.

Pedro: I have a background in science, engineering, and physics. Combined with an interest in creativity and art, that moved me to study design. Like Alex, I also have a sensibility to nature and our planet, and on top of that social justice. Before, I worked in Colombia on cooperation for development programmes. I don’t merely want to design with commercial purposes in mind, but design something for the planet and people.

How might we design the transition from a linear to a circular system?

In València, that is a step we still have to take. For that transformation, we first need a change of mindset in which we stop focusing on downstream stages of the manufacturing production process, and instead focus more on upstream innovation. And what we also need, is to give people circular alternatives that are truly more attractive than the linear. This transition requires a creative approach, in which we are not focusing on efficiency alone. We need business models built on values other than solely economic ones. Money is great as a tool, but not as an end. València has a great local structure and network of small businesses with the potential to adapt to a circular economy really fast. What we need now is a strategic plan that everyone can use as a reference. Our administration should provide that, but also society can push harder.

What is your biggest hope for the future and what can we all start (or stop) doing as of tomorrow to contribute to that?

We hope that the methodologies we come up with can be implemented straight away. We will do that with our own research studio for circular design Diseño en βeta by creating packs of services, but also through growing a community of engineers, scientists, and designers and involve them in that process. We want to create more understanding and make knowledge available to everyone. We already do that through our podcast FAQ LINEAL, in which we talk about circularity and how we can turn things around. In July 2021, the Spanish cabinet approved a law banning single-use plastic which is great, but we still see a lot of greenwashing. And we talk about all of this in the podcast. We want to inspire listeners and encourage them to stay on their toes, so in our latest episode we interviewed a couple that is living plastic-free. Keep educating yourself!

Our ultimate goal is to live in a world in which we can all respect each other, work in a collaborative symbiosis with nature, and bring love through design.

Distributed Design for Circular Cities is part of our programme for Distributed Design, the exchange and networking hub for the European maker movement. Want to know more about Distributed Design for Circular Cities? Check all the Creative Talent interviews and mark Thursday, October 14 from 18.00-19.00 in your calendars for our event and livecast in Pakhuis de Zwijger.