At the end of May I was invited to join a group of designers on a tour of a pulp and paper mill in France, owned by paper manufacturer Arjowiggins. Excited to learn more about another type of material manufacturing, I went along to document the visit for The Great Recovery Project.
It was a fascinating couple of days getting an insider view of how recycled paper is made. We witnessed every step for the process, from the moment the post-consumer waste arrives at the pulp factory, to the point where the freshly recycled paper is packaged up and piled high, ready to ship off the UK and around Europe.
You read more about the experience and see my photographs over on The Great Recovery site, where I wrote a blog post about the tour. The photographs are particularly interesting as I got a rare permission to photograph inside both factories, which a visitor has never been allowed to do before.
I also produced some accompanying interviews, with insights from both the visiting designers and our hosts, on the importance of learning about materials.
You can read Siôn Whellens’ account of the trip on the Calverts’ website. It is thanks to Siôn, who brought everyone together, that we all got to learn more about paper manufacturing. Thanks must also go to Julian Long and Angela DeVorchik of Arjowiggins Graphic who were our wonderful hosts.
After seven months travelling around the UK documenting The Great Recovery project for the RSA and the TSB, then another month distilling all the collected content into a beautiful document, I’m delighted to say The Great Recovery report has been published.
All in all it has been a fascinating process, I’ve learned so much about manufacturing and design while working on this project and I have loved visiting every factory. It’s quite thrilling to see all my photographs, interviews and writing on the designer’s role in the circular economy brought together into such a good looking publication. Thomas Matthews did a fantastic job on the report layout design.
In October 2012 I started working with the co-directors of design at the RSA , Sophie Thomas and Nat Hunter, on The Great Recovery project as a design observer. This involved documenting workshops and visits to material recovery centres around the UK.
These events brought designers, manufacturers and policy makers together to explore issues, investigate innovation gaps and incubate new partnerships in the circular economy. It has been a fascinating experience all round, where we’ve learned so much about the materials economy and the systems design involved in recycling.
We visited some incredible places, a tin mine in Cornwall, a plastic bottle recycling factory, an e-waste facility, and even the Caterpillar Remanufacturing plant in Shrewesbury where we watched engines being repurposed to the quality of brand new engines.
My role involved building up a body of documentary content for the project using photography, process observation and participant interviews. I was then to distill this content into the Great Recovery report, working in collaboration with Sophie Thomas.